Marriage and Divorce

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This booklet (issued in 1997) consists of articles, submitted by five esteemed teaching brethren, and published between the years 1981 and 1996 in “ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY” magazine, which is issued at two monthly intervals, for the propagation of the Word of God and thus the encouragement and edification of the people of God.


by R. McPike (Scotland)

by John Campbell (Scotland)

by J. Campbell (Scotland)

by Eric G. Parmenter (England)    Page 10

by the late Albert L. Leckie (Scotland)

by D. C. Hinton (England)


by R. McPlKE, Annbank

From: “ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY” No. 172, Page 52. (March-April 1981)

The subject of divorce among the people of God has aroused much controversy, many tears have been shed, and much unhappiness resulted from it. Need this be, had we kept close to the Word of God, and not concentrated on the isolated “except” clause of Matt. 19.1-3?

What is intended to be taught by God in the Marriage relationship?

(A)    As marriage was established in Eden before sin came into the world, and God uttered words binding the relationship, it was not affected by sin. Therefore the following words are binding for all time, “What God hath joined, let not man put asunder.” No enactments of men however high or honoured can reverse that statement. God cannot go back on His word.

(B)    To allow divorce on any ground is to refuse and rebel against the Divine command, as well as to undermine the subsequent teaching of the marriage relationship involving Christ and the Church. (Eph.5.31,32) God’s eternal purpose is that they should be together. No believer subject to the Scriptures would entertain the thought of divorce between Christ and the Church, even though the Church be unfaithful to Him. Moreover, no true believer would dream of divorcing himself from Christ. On the ground of this oneness between Christ and the Church, we reject entirely any view that would attempt to separate or divide that ONENESS. Basically, marriage is not so much a union, as it is a unity. “Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” One cannot be divided.

(C)    To teach that Jesus Christ, the Son of God sanctioned divorce in Matt. 19 is to aver that He Who is God changed His mind concerning His initial commandment. “Are not the gifts and calling of God without repentance” (or change)? Our Lord goes back to the primal word, “From the beginning it was not so.” The “except” clause was not prescribed by the Son of God, but it refers to the Mosaic Law economy, brought in by Moses, who suffered a bill of divorcement by “reason of the hardness of men’s hearts.” God allowed it but did not originate it. In the O.T. Moses, not God, sanctioned it. Prescribed by Moses under Law, it is not something permitted in the age of grace, where the initial marriage relationship of Adam and Eve is seen to be a figure of the oneness between Christ and the Church, something not known or revealed during the

Law Period. If divorce is allowed then the figure of Adam and Eve has no meaning, and our Lord has capitulated to the pressure of circumstances, which we cannot allow, and the Apostle Paul was deceived concerning God’s purpose in marriage, as well as undermining the believer’s eternal security and relationship to Christ.

If we accept the words of Christ, as sanctioning divorce in Matt. 19, in this present dispensation, then God’s Son has countermanded God’s original commandment concerning marriage. Since God is unchangeable in all other matters, we expect Him to be in this also, else He ceases to be God, and Christ’s claim to be God is open to question. This never can be. Christ stated simply the first and original principle of marriage.

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by JOHN CAMPBELL (Larkhall)

From: “ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY” No. 180, Page 118. (July-August 1982)

Before considering this grievous topic, let us clear the ground for our investigation and set prescribed limits, whereby it may be reasonably controlled; and not run into channels insoluble or irreconcilable.

We have no desire to examine, let alone comment on the opinions of men, be they of the schools of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Sanhedrin, Shammai, Rabbinical or Josephus. We will not be influenced by modem phraseology such as guilty or innocent parties, incompatibility of temperament or justifiable desertion.

We shall give every attention to what four Parties alone have to say on the subject, namely:—

1.    The Holy Spirit Who wrote the Bible.  
2.    Moses Who wrote the Law.  
3.    Christ Who amended the Law.  
4.    Paul Who claimed inspiration. (1Cor. 14.37).

Paul submitted his matter to wise men; we would do likewise. Inspiration is not for vulgar debate. What the Spirit writes is eternal, unquestionable truth, matter for rapturous contemplation!

Let us consider first some of the disclosures of the Holy Spirit. That certain laws were in operation before that given at Sinai in Exodus 20 is clear from two statements of Scripture, one in the Old and one in the New Testament. I refer to Exodus 18.16, where Moses speaks to Jethro about laws in Israel precedent to Sinai in chapter 20 when the Mosaic Law was given. Again, in Gal.3.19, “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions.” I ask “To what was it added?” The context is the promise and the covenant. But transgression is not a violation of these, it is a violation of a known law. Again I ask, “What law?” Both questions can only be answered by a statement that the Mosaic Law was added to law already in existence and acknowledged as such.

It is evident there was a Law of the Sabbath (Gen.2.3). God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it = set it apart. A hint of it in Gen.4.3, no doubt, “in process of time” = marginal reading, “at the end of days.” Again, in the Decalogue, “Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy,” (Ex.20.8). You only remember what you already know. So we establish the Law of the Sabbath as being before the Law of Moses.

Then there is the Law of Matrimony in which we are presently interested, (Gen.2.24). In Gen.2.18, God recognized, “It was not good for man to be alone.” This did not mean he was lonely. He had the fowls of the air, he had the beasts of the field, he had given them names, probably could converse with them in his unfallen state. Nor did God take his rib, and from it form another man to dispel his loneliness. God could have accomplished this if mere solitude had to be overcome. From his rib, God builded for Adam his Eve, his fitting counterpart. Now the man received his woman; bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh. They twain became one flesh.

Monogamy is the standard set by God. Polygamy is first mentioned in Gen.4.19. Lamech, the fifth generation from Adam had two wives.

What the Holy Spirit discloses in Gen.2.24, and what God sanctifies in the same verse, Christ ratifies in Matt. 19.6. “Let not man put asunder.” The marriage bond is inviolate. Death alone looses from it. (Rom.7.2).

We consider next what Moses, who wrote the Law, has to say, concerning divorce. In Exodus 20.14 we read, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” In Exodus 20.17 we read, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his maidservant ” There is no mention of divorce in the Decalogue; no provision was made for it in God’s moral Law, for Israelites were expected to live lives above the standards of the immoral nations around them. And no explanation is given in Deut.24 for the introduction of the Divorcement Bill. In Deut.22.13, where there is proven harlotry on the part of the bride, she is stoned. She does not qualify for a Divorcement Bill. The “EXCEPT” clause of Matt. 19.9 is best understood by a Jewish mind, acquainted with Jewish customs relative to marriage. The wife of Deut.24 qualifies for a Bill of Divorcement; she could not be guilty of harlotry. Yet both are subject to “the statutes and judgments which the Lord thy God hath commanded” (Ch.26.16).

We note some features of the woman of Deut.24.1. The Sept. discloses while the man is dwelling with her, he discovers some hitherto unrevealed, unbecoming feature in her, which could be a physical deformity, either something superfluous or deficient. Or, by contrast, a moral trait, bordering on misconduct or disgrace; even to shameful lewdness which would expose him to disrepute. She may even have a bodily growth or suffer from a hidden disease; or worst of all, she may be barren, and incapable of producing children. The word carries with it the thought of deformity in both senses.

In this connection, note what Ezekiel 20.25 has to say. “Wherefore, I gave them statutes that were not good ” Even if you allow the sense to be altered to read, “Wherefore I caused them to be given statutes that were not good,” the sense is in no way impaired. Six times in Matt.5 the Lord says, “Ye have heard,” and again, “But I say unto you.” He amends the Law. In Matt. 19.8 the Lord Jesus says, “Because of the hardness of your hearts, Moses suffered you.” He exhibited no agreement with what Moses said or allowed, but stated fornication as the sole exception, in accordance with Deut.22.21.

John the Baptist, every time he saw Herod, continued to tell him, “It is not lawful for thee to have her,” that is, his brother Philip’s wife, while Philip was yet alive. This wicked woman could not bear that continual taunt, and obtained her revenge through her dancing daughter, when she requested and received John’s head as her reward.

Paul in Rom.7 is as usual most lucid in things spiritual. He says the woman is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth. If the husband be dead she is loosed from the law of her husband. If, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress. These three points are very clear. Again, the Lord in Matt. 19.9, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery, and whoso marrieth her which is put away, doth commit adultery.” No wonder the disciples said, “If the case be so with his wife it is good not to marry!”

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by J. CAMPBELL (Larkhall)

From: “ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY” No. 186, Page 119. (July-August 1983)

The incidence of divorce among the unsaved, now reckoned at 1 in 3, is such as to cause concern in the matter of reception to the Local Church. Some good brethren, whose ministry has been appreciated, have now been teaching, what they appear to have held privately; but for various reasons, kept a discreet silence: that, since all our sins were future when Christ died for them, it follows that the sin leading to divorce was likewise forgiven. They assert on this basis alone, we cannot withhold Assembly fellowship from one otherwise found suitable. This may be good logic; but it certainly is wrong doctrine.

We are allowed Old Testament illustrations. The Lord was skilful here. Naaman is a case in point. Immediately after his cleansing, his conscience is active. He remembers his duty to his master takes him into the house of Rimmon, where he has to bow to a god he now knows is only a heathen idol, since he has witnessed the power of the True God of Israel in his own cleansing. His first outburst is “The Lord pardon me in this” (2Kings 5.18). In the New Testament, Zacchaeus, having found Christ, declares, “Lord, if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold” (Luke 19.8). If all is forgiven, why this rush for restitution? Why this delicate conscience about bowing to another god! And why so little desire on the part of the divorcee to return, where this is possible?

There are sins we commit in our unsaved days, all of which the blood of Christ cleanses, and His grace forgives; but the consequences of these selfsame sins remain with us throughout our lives.

For one act of disobedience, Adam was thrust out of Eden.
For one act of impatience, Saul lost a Kingdom.
For one act of temper, Moses was denied the land.
For one act of immorality, David lost a son.

David and Moses were forgiven, both lived to pay a terrible price for their indiscretions. You cannot play with sin!

The alcoholic has his sins forgiven, his craving for drink removed, but left with a ruined mind and body. So with the drug addict, and the immoral person.

All sins forgiven, the consequences remain. The murderer is forgiven. He cannot bring back the life he has taken. To assert that all our sins were future when Christ died for them, is a general statement, and like most general statements the implications are generally wrong. Beware of all such. Take time to examine them.

If the statement is true, and we consider the person who is a fornicator, covetous, idolater, railer, drunkard, or extortioner, with whom the Church has not to fellowship, then Paul was wrong to lay down restrictions (according to lCor.5.13) in limiting membership to those clear of the aforementioned sinful practices, since they were all future when Christ died.

Why the incessant appeal for holiness of living? Paul to the Thessalonians, lTh.4.4 “possess his vessel in sanctification and honour”; Col.3.9 “Lie not one to another”; Eph.4.28 “Let him that stole steal no more”; again Col.3.8 “filthy communication”. Why, when all our sins were forgiven at the Cross? This is dangerous. Its logical end is the abandonment of restraint in talk, walk, and movement, culminating in lawlessness, every man doing that which is right in his own eyes.

If we accept in total this general statement, then we destroy the principle of responsibility. One is startled to read in lPeter4.18 “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” God, in His forbearance, in Old Testament times passed by, but did not bring into judgment the sins of His Saints, for Calvary was yet future (Rom.3.25).

Hebrews 10.26 clearly states there is no longer a sacrifice left for wilful sin, after conversion; but the expectation of some terrible judgment. How can this Scripture be interpreted in the light of the general assertion of all future sins forgiven by the death of Christ? This cannot be exclusively Jewish in character, as the writer links himself with them in the “we” of the verse. Until the moment a soul places trust in Christ for salvation, that soul is in the kingdom of Satan, held captive by him, in bondage to him. The moment he or she trusts Christ, by faith owns Him as Lord and believes in the heart, that soul is set free, given a new life, power over sin, and eveiy sin committed, pardoned. Sins committed after conversion will be forgiven after confession and forsaken, but loss suffered at the Judgment Seat of Christ. lJohn 1.9 makes provision for this lapse, as also does lJohn 2.1 where we have the advocacy of Christ mentioned.

The Church locally rightly examines every applicant for fellowship in matters moral, doctrinal and spiritual. Care exercised at this point forestalls many a problem later. And the Scriptures are our sole guide. The laws of the land

provide no basis for Christian relationships, be they social, business or matrimonial. What may be judged as fitting to the unregenerate, could be indecorous or even sinful for the bom again believer, who has renounced the hidden things of darkness, and is walking after the power of a new life in Christ. As to the married state, the Scriptures are the Christian’s only text book. In the Bible, he learns marriage is an institution from God, not a sacrament; whereby two, one male, one female, become one flesh. We never read of a divorced believer. The possibility of this happening, as we know it in the world today, is not provided for in the Word of God. This truth should be taught clearly, emphasised firmly and insisted on all who, from the divorce world, seek fellowship with the Local Church. The problem lies with the applicant to resolve in the light of Scripture. The Overseers and the Church should give guidance, counsel, sympathy and compassion in a circumstance they did not create and cannot resolve; but where the dignity of the fellowship of the Church of God locally could be tarnished in the matter of Reception, they must act wisely. Two essential features must mark all who are received to and constitute the Local Church, in addition to being saved and scripturally baptized. It is imperative they be sound in the faith, clear on the fundamental doctrines of Scripture, without being theologians; and they must be godly in life. That is why the divorce question must be faced initially. If divorce matters cannot be adjusted when fellowship is sought, the applicant should be encouraged to attend all the gatherings of the Saints, until such a time as circumstances in the applicant’s life are so adjusted, through reconciliation, or the death of the former partner, as to make it possible for the Church to receive him or her without restraint. One thing is certain, the applicant cannot stipulate conditions for fellowship with the Church.

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by ERIC G. PARMENTER, Basingstoke

From: “ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY” No. 233, Page 67; No. 234, Page 99; and No. 235, Page 131.May-June 1991 to September-October 1991)

The Background

During Paul’s eighteen months stay at Corinth many of that city were converted under his preaching. When the apostle left Corinth these new converts, wanting to live consecrated lives in separation from the world, found themselves faced with certain personal issues, and with little in the way of New Testament writings, were unsure as to what they should do. What these personal issues were can be suggested in the answers given by the apostle Paul.

  1. Should young believers marry, and if they do, will marriage affect their devotion to Christ?
  2. If a believing wife leaves her husband, would she be free to remarry ?
  3. Being already married with a family when the gospel came — would it be honouring to the Lord in continuing to cohabit with a partner, an idolater who despises and rejects Christ and His gospel?
  4. Should existing religious and social distinctions be altered now they are saved?
  5. Was it right for widows to remarry?

These appear to be issues concerning which the Corinthians sought the counsel of the apostle.

1. — Should Young Believers Marry?

The apostle states a general principle in verses 1 and 2 “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” The word “good” indicates what is expedient or advantageous. The meaning of the word “touch” is to “cohabit with” c.f. Prov.6.29, but in view of the low moral state of their society where immorality was common practice among the people — to avoid this sin Paul continues with “Let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.” Paul was acutely aware of the prevailing moral standards at Corinth, he was equally aware of the real temptation to fornication, and the likely practices of the believers before their conversion, knowing that premarital relationships were

prevalent among the heathen and more so at Corinth. In our own society also, the younger generation considers premarital relationships as the norm.

The apostle emphasises that such sexual sins are not to be indulged in by believers, and because fornication presented very real temptations he gives the instruction “let each man have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” Without quoting Genesis 2.24 he clearly has in mind what God purposed from the beginning, one man and one woman exclusive to each other.

Sometimes the practice of the Patriarchs and Kings of Old Testament Scripture is referred to as the basis for having more than one wife. We need to keep before us that in the beginning God had the power to make more than one woman for Adam, but that was not His purpose: His intention was one man and one woman. Paul in Ephesians 5 explains the purpose of God — the husband and wife relationship reflects the mystical union of Christ and the Church.

A Parenthesis

Verses 3,4 and 5 can be considered as a parenthesis in which he gives sound instruction to those already married. The word “render’’ in verse 3 means to “discharge an obligation.” Whereas the word “benevolence” should be omitted, only the AV text carries it.

Paul is giving instruction to those already married in respect of marital dues, the husband is under obligation to give to his wife her conjugal rights and in the same manner the wife to the husband: As “heirs together of the grace of life,” lPet.3.7, the object of each is not self gratification but in selflessness having a mutual care for each other, the duty to each will be fulfilled, bearing in mind that neither the wife nor the husband has control of his or her own body. The woman who marries, gives up the full right to her own body and so the man. hi view of this the apostle exhorts the married couple in verse 5 not to defraud i.e. refuse or deprive each other in the matter of their marital rights; unless it be for a limited time, by mutual agreement in order to give themselves with greater concentration to prayerful exercise before God, then they must come together again. Paul knew the very real danger to which such would be exposed and he was not ignorant of the devil’s devices who, if possible, would use the occasion to tempt one or the other to do wrong and sin against God through lack of self control.

Speaking by Permission

Some have taken Paul’s words in verse 6 to mean that he was speaking outside of the inspiration of God. This is not so for the apostle makes it quite clear that “all Scripture is God breathed” (2Tim.3.16). The word “this” (verse 6) looks back to what Paul has said in verse 2. This is confirmed by the word “for” (verse 7.). The apostle is not just giving his opinion as a private individual, he is writing in the consciousness of his apostolic authority and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He makes reference to his own single state in verse 7 desiring that all might have the power of self control, so in remaining they would not fall to the temptation of fornication. Paul then qualifies this personal desire, not wishing to force his state upon others, recognizing that each has his own gift of grace bestowed upon him by God. Whether a Christian marries or remains single, responsibility in the matter is to God alone.

Evidently in reference to the service of God it would be an advantage in some circumstances to remain unmarried.

Younger Christians would be wise to seek the mind of God for them in respect of His service before deciding the question — shall I marry or remain single? To remain unmarried in no way makes the Christian more holy or spiritually superior to Christians who marry; but in relation to serving God it might be more expedient in some cases.

Widows — Verse 8

The apostle considers the widow along with the unmarried and he reiterates — it is good for them to remain unmarried if they can, as he was, but if there is want of self control, if they cannot contain, rather than bum with passion or be tortured with ungratified desire it would be better to go ahead and marry.

2. — If a Wife Leaves Her Husband Is She Free to Remarry?

The commandment of the Lord verses 10 – 11. The question of taking out a Bill of Divorcement is indicated and the apostle gives his answer. Regarding divorce Paul says “I command, yet not I, but the Lord,” confirming that his command is in perfect accord with what the Lord taught when He was here (c.f. Matt.5.32; 19.6,9; Mark 10.10-12; Luke 16.18.) “Let not the wife depart from her husband” i.e. the wife is not to be unfaithful, under any circumstances to her marriage covenant, neither is she to depart from her husband under any pretence. “But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried.” (verse 11) Paul is not countenancing such departure, but where it has already happened he is commanding the wife what she must do in that situation (a) “remain unmarried,” or (b) “be reconciled to her husband”. Under no circumstance was she to divorce her husband, rather let her acknowledge her fault in leaving him, ask his forgiveness and confirm her willingness to live with him. It might be a humbling experience to own her mistake, yet she is to spare no effort to re-establish normal relations with the man who was still her husband: “and let not the husband put away his wife.” The husband is not to divorce his wife, but receive her again in peace.

3. — The Divided Home — verses 12 – 16

When the call of God came in the gospel through Paul the preacher, one partner responded to the call and was saved, but the other partner would have nothing to do with the gospel and continued in idolatry. What now is the position of the believing husband or wife? In answering the question the apostle said “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord:” verse 12. Two questions arise from Paul’s statement:

  1. Who are referred to by “The rest?”
  2. What did the apostle mean when he said “speak I, not the Lord?”

(1) “THE REST’ Paul is not here introducing the idea current in some quarters: Because the marriage took place before conversion, and now either the husband or the wife have become converted, that the marriage is null and void and they can separate and are free to divorce and remarry.

The saying “marriages are made in heaven” is not a scriptural one and in no way refers to believers’ marriages only.

Genesis 2 proves unequivocally that marriage is a divine institution, inviolate, unalterable and fixed by God. It is not a temporary contract but a permanent and exclusive union of one man and one woman until dissolved by death. It was ordained of God for mankind before the descriptive words “believers” and “unbelievers” were in force, and throughout Scripture its permanency is binding upon all who enter upon it.

The last book of the Old Testament confirms what is stated in the first book. Malachi 2.14 speaks of marriage as a covenant: In verse 15 the prophet makes reference to the beginning — “And did not He make one?” i.e. one woman for the one man. Then he plainly states—“For the Lord, the God of Israel,… hateth putting away”.

The first book of the New Testament opens with the Lord’s own teaching and again, when answering the Jews, He said “Have ye not read” and immediately quotes Gen. 1.27: 2.24: Nowhere does Scripture differentiate between the marriages of believers and unbelievers, God recognizes both.

What then is the meaning of Paul’s words “but to the rest”? The situation addressed by the apostle is one where the gospel has been received by the husband, whom he now refers to as “a brother”, but has not been embraced by his wife (verse 12) and vice versa in verse 13. It is to this situation the apostle refers where the unsaved partner is pleased to continue the marriage relationship, the Christian husband is not to “put away” i.e. divorce his unsaved wife, and the Christian wife is not to “leave” her unsaved husband. Note the expressions “put away” and “leave” are the same.

The instructions given in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah do not apply, nor do they call for separation. Christianity requires no believer to turn away from the unbelieving partner and nowhere is it intended to overthrow the natural relationships of life.

SANCTIFIED. The apostle gives his reasons in verse 14 – “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife …” The word “for” points out the needlessness of separation and shows the disastrous consequences if the idea were entertained that the conversion of husband or wife makes the marriage void. If that were the case, the children of the marriage would be unclean. The word ‘sanctified’ has no reference here to moral or spiritual status, but in God’s sight the husband and wife are “one flesh” and by continuing in the marriage relationship — it is sanctified to them. The husband, though an unbeliever, is sanctified in the person of his wife for the lawful enjoyment of marital privileges. The proof of this is seen in the logical sequence “else were your children unclean.” The point Paul is making is, that to leave the unconverted spouse would be tantamount to saying that the marriage was no longer valid, and this would expose the children to the stigma of being unclean or illegitimate, but that is not the case. “Now are they holy” i.e. your children are legitimate offspring, God reckons them being bom in lawful wedlock.

(2) “SPEAK I, NOT THE LORD.” What is the meaning of Paul’s expression? The idea that the apostle is drawing an antithesis between what is inspired and what is not, is altogether without foundation.

The apostle is indicating that whereas the Lord in His ministry had given clear commandment on the subject of divorce, He had said nothing in His teaching which took in the wider issues raised by the Corinthians. Paul would now give his judgment, and under divine inspiration answer the questions raised, and so resolve their particular problem, and such is preserved in the New Testament for the guidance of believers throughout the Church age.

“But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases:” verse 15. This verse has been used to teach that desertion is a valid ground for divorce. Upon examination we will find out the apostle’s intention.

Desertion is nowhere in the New Testament given as ground for divorce. In the preceding verses Paul has gone to some lengths to make plain that neither divorce nor separation is required when a husband or wife is converted — “but if the unbelieving depart…” i.e. if because you have become a Christian your spouse has deliberately left and separated from you, the situation must be accepted, committing the matter and all the ensuing circumstances to God, then wait and see if God will work in his/her heart that he/she might return.

NOT UNDER BONDAGE “A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases:” This has been construed to mean that the deserted partner is free to remarry, the former marriage tie having been automatically severed by the act of desertion. If that were true Paul would be guilty of contradicting what he had said earlier. The apostle’s meaning is, that the believing wife is not to have recourse to litigation in order to compel her husband to return, neither in her anxiety should she use every effort to get him back. For if he was forced back, “what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” There is no guarantee that would be the case “but God hath called us in peace” (JND). Personal circumstances in these situations may be difficult but continuing in an atmosphere of peace, and leaving the whole matter to God is Paul’s judgment for the believers in such cases.

In verse 17 an additional reason is given why divorce or separation should not be sought after “as God hath distributed to every … one, so let him walk.” Where conversion has taken place, either with the wife or husband, although a radical change has taken place spiritually, no steps are to be taken to alter the marriage relationship. “And so ordain I in all churches”, confirming that Paul’s judgment in these matters carries apostolic authority not only in Corinth, but such teaching was obligatory in all the Churches and reaches down to the present time.

4. — The Call of God and its Effects, — Verses 18 – 24.

The apostle widens his instructions to take in certain distinctions found among the believers, some in the religious realm, others in the social. Throughout this section Paul is showing that their conversion does not involve removing outward signs or social position. When the call of God came, some of

those who were saved had Jewish connections, in that case they were not to remove the outward sign of circumcision, and where those who believed were slaves they were not to alter their position, but rather ‘use it’ to glorify God: “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.” If liberty for the slave became possible, such was to be used (verse 21), but all will be governed by their new relationship with the Lord.

The call in verse 22 relates to the time of their conversion, and as being “in the Lord” they were now subject to His authority in all their circumstances; those who were free when they became saved are now the bondservants of Christ. Note the difference in the titles “in the Lord” — authority which demands subjection; “Christ’s servant” — emphasises His grace.

BOUGHT WITH A PRICE, verse 23. This is a reminder that the ground of their freedom from sin’s slavery is the blood of Christ, and whatever their distinctions or positions, whether religious or social, Christ died to make them His servants, i.e. for them to be at His disposal. Therefore they were not to become the servants of men. Paul makes an important addition, in relation to the call of God, to what he has said in verse 20, “…therein abide with God.” Literally “before God.” Thus their position may be that of bondslaves, but instead of trying to alter things, they were to live out their lives “before” God in the conscious realisation of His presence knowing that any change they might desire can be left with God and His will for them.

Counsel For the Unmarried — Verses 25 – 40.

Paul now reverts to the question which he was answering in verse 8 to give a fuller explanation as one having obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful: The apostle’s “I think” (verse 26) is not indicating some doubt about what he is to say; he has perfect confidence in the soundness of the principle to be enunciated.

PRESENT DISTRESS, Verses 26 – 28. Evidently there were circumstances that had a noticeable bearing on what he is saying: possibly pressures were being felt, therefore “this is good that a man be as he is” i.e. not to change his unmarried status (verse 27) But if marriage is undertaken no sin is committed Paul is not thinking of wrong doing but what is expedient. Trials and difficulties are often experienced in the responsibilities of married life, but he would spare them, meaning he would not press the point for them to remain unmarried.

SHORTENED TIME, Verses 29 – 30 Paul declares that the time in which their life and circumstances were ordered, had been “drawn together”, were “little in amount” and whatever remained of their future life down here was not to be governed by relationships, circumstances or possessions. Marriage relationships, circumstances which cause either joy or sorrow, the fashion of the world, are all transient and passing. The husband is to remember that in the responsibilities and relationships of marital life — his relationship to the Lord was higher and more permanent. Those who would possess goods — the word “possessed” having the meaning of “holding fast,” “setting the heart on” — are to consider the transitory nature of such things — they are not to be absorbed with them, but as possessing them, hold everything in trust in the consciousness of their stewardship before God. The phrase “not abusing it” means not to “use it to the full”, or not “overusing it” as if it were the great object of living, and the reason the apostle gives is “ the fashion” or outward form “of this world passeth away.”

IMPORTANT DIFFERENCE, Verses 32 – 35. The apostle expresses his desire for the Corinthians in verse 32 “I would have you without carefulness ” He would encourage them to live without worrying or being over anxious and then outlines the differences between the Unmarried and the Married. The man who remains unmarried “careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord ” The things, and the pleasure of the Lord occupy him without the distractions of a wife which also may limit his service for the Lord: “But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.” There is no suggestion by the apostle that the married man is “worldly minded” yet, in pleasing his wife, he becomes involved in worldly matters. There is nothing superior in the single state only that such a man has greater liberty to serve God.

WIFE AND A VIRGIN, Verses 34 – 35. The same principle is applied by Paul to the wife and a virgin. “The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit:” i.e. her consecration to the Lord has not the distractions as that of a wife, for “she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please” (with a view to pleasing) “her husband.” The apostle in making these observations has in view the profit of the believers. There was no intention of casting a snare, like a man would cast a noose over a horse in order to catch the animal, the best interests of the saints were before him, in touching things that were becoming, with the ultimate end that whether single or married they might attend upon the Lord without distraction.

STEADFAST IN HEART, Verses 36 – 38. These verses have been the subject of a variety of explanations. Some have taken them to mean a father and his unmarried daughter. The word virgin can apply to a man or a woman, the context will generally decide which. The word “her” found in verse 36 and twice in verse 38 is in italics, indicating its absence in the Greek text. Paul has been concerned with the subject of the man and the woman either married, or widowed, which might suggest that this is so throughout. To introduce the father here means the apostle is addressing himself to another question raised by the Corinthians. Seeing the word “virgin” can also be translated “virginity” the interpretation that seems more in keeping with the subject matter of the chapter is, that Paul continues his instruction to the unmarried man, not one who is a father with a daughter of marriageable age. The phrase “if she pass the flower of her age,” does not refer to the daughter. Refer to the Englishman’s Greek New Testament 1550; and J N Darby’s translation where the phrase is rendered “if he be beyond..Thus the flower of age is better understood as “If he hath fully attained age.” Paul’s logic is that if anyone thinks he behaves unseemly to his virginity, having attained to the full vigour of age, let him do what he will, let them marry, for in doing this he sinneth not, (verse 36.) “But he who stands firm…but has authority over his own will, and has judged this in his heart to keep his own virginity, he does well” (verse 37 JND). The apostle in verse 38 sums up the matter — to marry is not sinful — the man does well: but he that remains single does better.

5. — Widows and Remarriage Verses 39 – 40.

Paul in concluding the chapter, makes a clear statement of fact in view of the creatorial purpose of God. “A wife is bound for whatever time her husband lives;” (verse 39 JND) “but if the husband be fallen asleep,” (i.e. dead) “she is free to be married to whom she will,…” confirming that the marriage bond although transient can only be broken at the death of the partner. Then the apostle brings forward an important principle: In remarrying, the widow is not free to marry of her own choice with no reference to the Lord — As with all who contemplate marrying, the widow is to discern the Lord’s will in her choice of partner, “Only in the Lord” expresses the authority of the Lord in the matter of earthly relationships. “But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment:” and in giving his judgment Paul has the assurance and conviction that such is the mind of the Spirit of God.

An Observation

In the light of present day conditions how necessary are godly elders, who in their ministry as overseers are sensitive to when a marriage is under strain. Such should be able to provide compassionate and understanding help to avoid a complete breakdown. Young couples are, in many cases, ready to discuss their problems and accept advice and counsel from elders — but is there a shortage of such men among the saints in assemblies today i.e. to whom the young people can go, having confidence in the counsel given that such would be the mind of the Spirit?

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by the late ALBERT L. LECKIE (Airdrie, Scotland)

(This is the transcript of a message given by our late brother at the London Convention in July 1988. This explains the somewhat colloquial style of the article. – Ed.)

From: “ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY” No. 257, Page 81; No. 258, Page 115; and No. 259, Page 145 (May-June 1995 to September-October 1995).

READ-Matt.5.31-32; 19.3-9.

This evening I have two matters to deal with:

  1. The indissolubility of marriage;
  2. Are there no exception clauses?


Marriage is a divine institution and dated from the time of man’s creation. Thus marriage is not simply a Mosaic ordinance but is, in fact, an essential part of God’s scheme of creation and it is intended for all humanity. Accepting, as every Christian must, the Bible as our final authority, we believe that the marriage bond for the Christian is indissoluble. I want you to look with me at the reasons for such an assertion.

There ought to be no doubt from the record of the first marriage in Eden’s garden, that God was establishing from the outset the indissolubility of marriage. Let me remind you that with a spoken word God filled the waters and the seas with whales and fish and also the firmament with fowl. You may remember the language of Gen. 1.20, “And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.” Also with a spoken word God introduced the cattle, the creeping thing and the beast of the earth, “And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.” (Gen. 1.24). Man, however, was a special creation, Gen. 1.26, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness:”. My brother, my sister, we must never forget that only man, of God’s creation, was made in God’s likeness and God’s image. How did God make man? Gen.2.7, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

If man was a special creation, what about the woman? The woman too was unique in her creation, certainly different from the beast of the field and also different from the man. The man was created directly by God but the woman indirectly through the man. The details are given in Gen.2.21,22 “And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made He a woman, and brought her unto the man.”

My dear friend, here we have not only the creation of the woman, but, in fact, the first marriage Notice the language, “Jehovah God … brought her unto the man.” There was the first marriage. The man’s first reaction upon being presented with the woman as a help meet for him, or perhaps as it could read, a help mate, his like or counterpart, was this, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen.2.23). And the Scripture adds “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be (become) one flesh.” We ask the question “Why did God thus deviate in His ways in creation when He made the woman?” The answer is of course, just this – that there might be in marriage an indissoluble bond, that does not, that cannot take place anywhere else in God’s creation – “they shall be one flesh.”

One can understand men who reject creation and accept evolution thus reducing marriage to the level of lifting and laying or entering into marriage with levity, making vows that they will keep only if it suits them and break if it suits them, or as well may be the case ’ere long, dispensing with marriage altogether. But those who accept a divine and infinite Creator in whose image man was made, who bow to the authority of the Word of God, cannot lightly esteem marriage. They cannot say that if a man takes a woman to his home and cohabits then that is equivalent to marriage. It is being taught that that is more of a marriage, than marriage with its vows and what they term non-consummation! Brethren, that does not stand the test of the Scriptures and it reduces human behaviour and responsibility to the level of the beast of the field and man is different. Please let us note that man and woman become indissolubly one flesh, not at the moment of consummation, but the moment the man takes and cleaves to his wife, that’s when they become one flesh When the woman was brought to the man as his help meet then there was the subsequent command to be fruitful and replenish the earth. We can be sure about this, Adam and the woman were, without doubt, one flesh in Eden’s garden before a child was bom.

Marriage is a divine institution, it therefore has divine sanction and what takes place at a marriage, here on earth is, in fact, enacted in heaven. It is of course, impossible that there could ever be a repetition of Eden’s first marriage, but the union that was then between the sexes in innocence is mysteriously brought about by the double act of a man taking a wife and God enacting this in heaven by joining them together. God does that in heaven. Hear the word of our Lord, Matt. 19.5,6: “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh>Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh WHAT THEREFORE GOD HATH JOINED TOGETHER, LET NOT MAN PUT ASUNDER.” Brethren, the child of God who is enlightened by God, knows that Eden’s first marriage was a picture marriage of the Church to Christ and we remember that that is a marriage that can never, never be dissolved.

Furthermore, marriage involves a vow. This is of necessity to conform to the laws of this realm. But vows are also made in the sight of God, and they mean that the couple are husband and wife ‘TILL DEATH DO PART’. This is a vow that is made at marriage. Remember Ecc.5.5, “Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.” Let the man of the world, or indeed a mere religionist make a vow not caring whether he keeps it or not – no child of God ought ever to do that. These are simple matters that we are inclined to forget. Of course the Bible also speaks of marriage as a covenant. In Prov.2.17 reference is made to the strange woman, “Which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God.” This must not be broken.

There is of course the teaching that adultery cancels the marriage bond. That being joined together in adultery, cancels the one flesh union of marriage. It is evident that this was not the case in patriarchal times, nor indeed under the law. The patriarchs had more than one wife and under the Mosaic law directions were given for a man having more than one wife. Deut.21.15, “If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated,…” The second wife relationship did not cancel the first wife relationship. So it was when our Lord was here, did He not say to the woman at Sychar’s well, “thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband:” (John 4.18)?

It is of course, contested in support of adultery cancelling the marriage bond that under Mosaic law, where there had been adultery, the parties involved had to die; Deut.22.2. My dear Christian friend, that cannot be brought forward to support the dissolution of marriage. If we did we would find ourselves in insurmountable difficulties. For example, under the law, if after marriage, a man claimed that his wife whom he took was not a maid and his claim was tiue and he hated her, then she should be stoned to death, Deut.22.12-21. Also in the case of a damsel betrothed unto a husband and she becomes guilty of fornication then both parties were to be stoned to death as well; Deut.22.23-24. Thus you would be on dangerous ground if you suggest death under the law justifies the dissolution of the marriage bond in this our day. My dear Christian friends, without minimizing the gravity of adultery, let me say that ADULTERY DOES NOT DISSOLVE THE MARRIAGE BOND

Note lCor.6.16-17, “What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.” I am, of course, aware of the teaching that in adultery the person becomes joined to a harlot and cannot be joined to a harlot and a wife at the same time. But please notice that is not the matter in the apostle’s mind in lCor.6. Notice vl5, “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.” What the apostle is establishing is the incompatibility of harlotry with being members of Christ. Notice the three expressions, “one body, one flesh, one spirit.” These are distinctions which must be observed:

i)    ONE BODY:

This is altogether different from the indissoluble bond of marriage and serious though it is, it does not dissolve the “one flesh” of the marriage bond. “One body” is not the natural and noble expression of love and oneness by having been divinely joined together – it is an immoral and debasing male and female relationship. It is an unlawful and unholy union.

ii)    ONE FLESH:

The apostle goes on to say, “for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.” A mistake is made by thinking that the word “for’’ is explaining the foregoing statement. The word “for” is part of the apostle’s quotation from Gen.2.24. The punctuation of the AV, though not inspired, makes this clear You will notice the placing of the inverted commas in the Newberry Bible also makes it clear.

When a man takes a wife and cleaves to her, God joins them together, Matt. 19, and this is exclusive to the marriage bond It is this that sanctions the most intimate association of husband and wife and restricts it to this unique relationship of “one flesh.”

iii)    ONE SPIRIT:

The apostle is establishing that our union with Christ is formed by one spirit and is of necessity deeper than any physical or carnal union.

Since the subject of 1Cor.6 is the incompatibility of harlotry with being a member of Christ, then I would be as much entitled to say that harlotry dissolves the union with Christ as it does the marriage bond – the bond of “one flesh ” Thus, ADULTERY DOES NOT CANCEL THE MARRIAGE BOND.

Another question is, “Does incompatibility give ground for putting away?” In lCor.7 it is made clear that this is not so, even in the case of an unsaved partner. In v10-11 the apostle envisages the extreme situation of a believing wife departing from or disassociating from her believing husband, or the believing husband departing from or disassociating from his believing wife. Brethren, the command is plain – there must be no remarriage but an attempt at reconciliation, v11, “But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.” The apostle’s language in 1Cor.7 is most important to notice. Please note in the matter of a Christian husband and wife depriving each other, with consent, of marital rights to be devoted to prayer for a season, the apostle gives his permission, or consent, v6, “But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.” In v7 when he speaks of self control or celibacy he states what is his wish, “For I would (I wish) that all men were even as I myself.” When he is stating the permanency of marriage the language of v11 is, “let her remain unmarried.” He does not speak of consent or wish, he gives a command and states that the Lord had in like manner commanded before him, thus v10, “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband.”

In v 12-16 the apostle deals with a mixed marriage in which one partner in the marriage becomes saved. This would pose a problem if the married couple had been Jews. Let me remind you that mixed marriages among Jews were prohibited and where a Jew disobeyed God by taking a strange wife, he became polluted and the children unclean, Ex.34 and Deut.7. The prohibition of mixed marriages among Jews was in order to preserve a holy seed. You may remember that both Ezra and Nehemiah were stricken with grief when the holy seed mingled with the people of the land and after a time of feeling shame and confession the strange wives and the offspring were put away and a trespass offering offered, Ezra 9 and Neh.13. However in this day of grace there is no thought of a holy seed to be preserved through which the Messiah might come. However should one partner in a marriage be converted, the unconverted partner and the children are relatively sanctified. That simply means, they become sanctified or holy by association with the believing partner. Of course they still require God’s salvation. Though relatively sanctified they are not vitally sanctified. Vital sanctification only comes by faith in Christ. Time does not permit the development of the subject.

So the apostle gives direction that the believing husband does not put away an unbelieving wife, or better “does not leave her” (the verb in vl2 is in the middle voice); and the believing wife does not leave the unbelieving husband, vl3. But should the unbelieving partner choose to depart, the brother or sister is not under bondage, is not bound in such a case, vl 5. Please notice, brethren, that does not mean divorce. It simply means that the person is not bound in the matter of marital responsibilities, not the indissoluble marriage bond. The person is not bound to fulfil marital duties, even should the partner leave.

I should like to elucidate the teaching of the apostle in v27,28. “Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned.” “Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed” does not mean “Art thou married to a wife? seek not to be divorced” as some are teaching. “Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife” does not mean “art thou divorced from a wife? seek not a wife”. “But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned” does not mean “if after you divorce you marry, you have not sinned” – that is the teaching of some brethren today, and is a serious misunderstanding of the Word of God.

Please notice in these verses “bound and loosed” is not the matter of marriage and divorce. It is bound in the matter of marital responsibilities and being loosed from them.

Come back again to the verses. “Art thou loosed from a wife?” should read as Mr. Darby’s translation, “art thou free from a wife?” The AV may imply “art thou loosed” as having been bound and now loosed, but the meaning is “art thou free, art thou loose, art thou unbound as never having been bound”. The verb is passive and what Paul is teaching is just this, “If you are single don’t seek a wife.” V28 “But if thou marry”, not “if thou remarry” but “if thou marry, thou hast not sinned.” V28 goes on to say, “and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned.” Let me quote again Mr. Darby’s translation, “if the virgin marry, they have not sinned:”, not “she” but “they”, and Mr. Darby justifies this from the fact that the verse continues, “such shall have trouble in the flesh:” and he points out that the word “such” is both plural and masculine. So what the apostle is treating of here is male virgins, men who have purposed in their hearts to be virgins. Notice v25 “Now concerning virgins” and v26 “it is good for a man so to be.” Let me emphasise in v25-28 the apostle is not dealing with marriage and divorce, that most assuredly is not the case. He is dealing with marriage and virginity – the married is bound to a wife, the virgin man is loose, free from a wife. Time forbids further development. Notice v39, “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whan she will; only in the Lord.” The words “by the law” should be omitted and thus the apostle states definitely, “The wife is bound as long as her husband liveth;”. This is confirmed in Rom.7.2, “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband he dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband ” The apostle’s employment of the perfect tense “hath been bound” establishes the lasting character of the marriage bond.

Now we must deal rather hurriedly with the second matter:


It is important to observe that there are no exception or apparent exception clauses in the epistles. The question then arises, “why is there this exception clause in Matthew’s gospel only?”

Let me first quote the exception clause again, Matt.5.31-32, “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 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.” Please notice this is part of the Lord’s teaching in the “Sermon on the Mount”. In Matt. 19 our Lord repeats the exception clause in His reply to questions by the Pharisees who sought to tempt Him. The first question was this, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” In reply, our Lord takes His interrogators back to the first marriage in Eden’s garden where, as we have already seen, the man and the woman became one flesh and our Lord significantly adds, v6, “Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”

The Pharisees reply with yet another question, v7, “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?” Our Lord’s reply to this is most enlightening. He says “You have made a mistake, it was never commanded, it was not mandatory; Moses SUFFERED it, not because of the sin that had been committed, but because of the hardness of your hearts.” Furthermore He said, “Moses may have suffered this, BUT FROM THE BEGINNING IT WAS NOT SO”. Then our Lord repeats the exception clause of the sermon on the mount, v9, “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except [it be] for fornication, and shall many another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”

The exception clause is not in Mark’s gospel. In Mark 10 the Pharisees ask our Lord the question, v2, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?” “For every cause” is omitted as we have in Matt.19. Our Lord deals with this as in

Matt. 19 and He repeats “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder ” When our Lord is in the house, away from the Pharisees and alone with His disciples, they ask Mm again of the same matter, vlO. His reply (vll,12) must be noticed, – particularly on the two matters wherein it differs from Matt.5 and 19. “And He saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.” The two matters in which Mark differs from Matthew are these:

i)    Our Lord makes no mention of the exception clause. It will not do to say that Mark is assuming his readers are acquainted with Matt.5 and 19 and therefore there is no requirement to repeat that exception clause. Brethren, this is too serious to make an assumption of that nature. Furthermore it has been accepted that Mark wrote before Matthew.

ii)    In Matthew 5 and 19 mention is made only of the man putting away his wife, but in Mk.10 it is different. The man putting away his wife AND the woman putting away her husband are both mentioned.

Now we come to the question, “Why is the exception clause found only in Matthew?” I must hurry over this since my time is gone. The answer is simply this, the exception clause must be understood in its Jewish setting. The Lord’s teaching on divorce in Matt.5 is part of the sermon on the mount and the Jewish character of that sermon is declared beyond dispute, e.g. Matt.6.32, “(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:)”. What the Lord is saying is that if the Gentiles seek such things as food and clothing, the godly Jew does not. That establishes the Jewish setting. Furthermore, in Matt.5 our Lord states that in His teaching He was filling out the law. Five times He said “Ye have heard .. .but I say unto you”. “Ye have heard” referring to the reading of the law and additional Rabbinical teaching in the synagogues. “But I say unto you” is His teaching as He fills out the law. Thus it is, my dear brethren, with His teaching on divorce. Notice the language of Matt.5.31,32 “It hath been said, .. .But I say unto you,” The filling out is, “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.”

Brethren, in Mark 10 our Lord takes the matter completely out of its Jewish setting. How do I arrive at this? We have noted that the Lord speaks, not only of a husband putting away his wife, but the wife putting away her husband. Under the Jewish law the husband might put away his wife but not the wife her husband. Thus Mark 10 cannot be in the Jewish setting AND THERE IS NO EXCEPTION CLAUSE.

What of the exception, “saving for the cause of fornication,” (Matt.5.32)? What is meant by fornication? Please notice that fornication and adultery are not always synonymous. Indeed they cannot be, when in the same verse both are mentioned as they are in Matt.5.32, “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 ” Supposing we accept that fornication and adultery are synonymous then both Matt. 5 and 19 involve a rather absurd situation. The woman is put away for the cause of adultery and is caused to commit adultery. There would therefore be just the perpetuation of the same sin, from one adulterous state to another. But we discover that frequently adultery and fornication are mentioned together. Said our Lord in Matt. 15.19, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:” lCor.6.9, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,”; Gal.5.19, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are [these]; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,” (the RV omits adultery). Brethren, the conclusion must be, that when they are mentioned together, in the same verse, in juxtaposition, they cannot be the same. When fornication is mentioned by itself it refers to harlotry in a general sense, but when it is mentioned with adultery then the difference is just this, fornication is pre marital; adultery is marital. If that is so, Matt.5 and 19 must be accepted in its Jewish background of fornication during the time of espousal. The Jewish espousal extended over a long period of time and was considered virtual marriage, when the couple became bound for all purposes save living together. That was the situation between Joseph and Mary in Matt. 1 – it must be understood against that Jewish background. When Mary was found to be with child during the espousal period, Joseph was minded to put her away. He had the choice of two things:

i)    He could bring Mary to the law courts to be judged and punished;

ii)    He could put Mary away by a bill of divorcement, without stating the case, “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.”

My dear Christian friends, I must conclude. This is what our Lord is dealing with in Matt. 5 and 19 – it is that exception clause, not divorce in the state of actual marriage, but during the period of Jewish espousal. Thus the only bill of divorcement permitted, not commanded, is for fornication committed during the period of espousal, in its Jewish setting, never to the actual marriage bond. One would love to say more but time has gone rather rapidly.

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by D. C. HINTON (Uxbridge, England)

From: “ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY” No. 260, Page 168; No. 261, Page 15; and No. 262, Page 36 (November-December 1995 to March-April 1996).


Living in a day when marriage is either considered to be a ceremony with little meaning or of no importance at all, we do well to consider seriously its true meaning afresh. In doing so, it is imperative that we base our conclusions solely upon the statements of Scripture and not upon the teaching, practices or even customs of men. Nor must we allow sympathy for others, even if they be our own relatives, to colour our conclusions.

What is Marriage?

The bringing together of a man and a woman to be “one flesh” was a divine institution and its principles were to apply universally down through the centuries. This was to be binding on all people, not just believers in our Lord Jesus. That is why the Lord took His questioners back to “the beginning”, Matt. 19.4. There, in the garden of Eden, Jehovah made clear His views on marriage before sin entered to mar His creation. His principles never change.

Marriage was to be the foundation of family life and was to establish a new family unit. This is seen as the apostle quotes Gen.2.24 in Eph.5.31 “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.” Previously the man would have been under the headship of his father, but now in marriage, he is the head of a new family. The fact that in Gen.2, father and mother are mentioned, before either of these relationships existed, proves that principles are being laid down for future generations.

It is important to be clear as to when a marriage is regarded by God as taking place. With Adam and Eve this was as soon as God had presented Eve to Adam. “And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh:” Adam was then described as “her husband”, Gen.3.6; Eve as “thy wife,” and “his wife”, Gen.3.17,20. This was despite the fact that the marriage was not consummated until chapter 4. Thus we read in 4.1, “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived,”. Therefore the argument that marriage is only effective in the sight of God when it is consummated is totally flawed. Note the order inspired by the Holy Spirit in Ruth 4.13, “So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bare a son.”

Moreover the fact that marriage was divinely instituted and is a union produced and recognized by God today, causes us to realize how important is the statement, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder ” Matt. 19.6. Man has no authority to legislate in this sphere.

In this land there is a legal ceremony which is to be carried out before the marriage is legal. Surely this is when marriage is divinely recognized. It is clear with respect to believers, since their vows are uttered in His presence. Other lands have other procedures which are equally valid as recognizing a new relationship.

Pattern for Marriage

God only provided one wife for Adam and that was Eve. This was to be a pattern for the future and we must not take as our example the subsequent practices of either the patriarchs or of Israel. It is significant that the first mention of plurality of wives comes in connection with the evil man Lamech, Gen.4.23. The requirement that an elder must be “the husband of one wife” (lTim.3.2) does not mean that other men could have more than one wife. He was to be a “one wife man”, meaning his affections were to be given to one woman only.

Spiritual Significance

When considering the subject of marriage, we must not forget its spiritual significance. Eve was created to be a help meet for Adam. This was a role that could not be fulfilled by any of the animal creation. Gen.2.20 “And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.” She was to support him in every way and was to enable him to reveal the full depths of his character — his love, care and every other devoted trait. This is applied to the relationship between the risen Christ and the Church, “the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.” The full display of divine love and care is to be seen in Christ’s relationship with the Church. The apostle develops this thought in a later chapter. The marriage union, the most intimate that can be experienced on earth, is a picture of the unique union between Christ and the Church. Eph.5.32, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” It is essential to keep this in mind when considering the permanence of marriage. Anything which would spoil this application is obviously contrary to the mind of God and should not be tolerated or practised.

Permanence of Marriage

The Holy Spirit in the Scriptures takes great care to stress and emphasise the permanence of marriage. It is clearly taught that this is a union which can be severed only by the death of one partner. The “law of last mention” is very important here as we quote the last references in the Scriptures to this subject. “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.” (Rom.7.2); “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” (lCor.7.39).

Some will suggest the gospels were written later, but they record teaching given earlier. Also the objection that the aposde says “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord:” and therefore his teaching is not relevant, is invalid. The fact that the Holy Spirit has permitted his word to remain on the page of Holy Scripture, is proof positive that this is part of divine inspiration. In fact the references quoted above just reinforce the words of the Lord Jesus in Mark 10.10-12 and Luke 16.18 concerning the indissolubility of the marriage bond.

There are also incidental references in the Scriptures which go to underline this indissolubility. The Lord Himself said, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her” Mark 10.11. Notice the words “against her.” Whatever legal process had been gone through, in the sight of God the original wife was still his wife. The same thing is seen when John the Baptist rebuked Herod for “marrying” Herodias “his brother Philip’s wife”, Matt. 14.3. Even though adultery had taken place and she was living with another man, God still viewed her as Philip’s wife.

Divorce and Remarriage

This subject inevitably leads to the matter of divorce and “remarriage” which is so prevalent today. The Scriptures previously quoted, Rom.7.2 and lCor.7.39, make it crystal clear that the marriage union cannot be broken or annulled in the sight of God — it exists as long as both parties are alive. This view is corroborated by the teaching of the Lord Jesus in the following passages:

  1. Mark 10.11, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.”;
  2. Luke 16.18, “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”

In the light of this, how do we interpret the Lord’s words in Matt.5.32, “whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery:”, repeated in Matt. 19.9?

On the surface, the Lord would appear to countenance remarriage following divorce on the grounds of immorality. This would mean that He contradicted the clear statements already quoted and this is unthinkable. The Saviour’s words must, therefore, be interpreted in a way that does not contradict either the quotations from the epistles or the words recorded in the other gospels. “No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation” (2Peter 1.20), or “is of its own solution”, Newberry.

Much has been written about the meaning of “fornication” in these verses. Sometimes, when writing to Gentiles, it is used to describe immorality of every kind, both before and after marriage. Examples are 1 Cor.5.9, “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators”; lCor.6.18, “Flee fornication.” In neither case can we possibly restrict the application of the verses to a particular form of immorality, since that would mean there was nothing wrong with other forms. The Corinthians would attach the Gentile meaning to the word, giving it a wide application. All should be aware that many words in Scripture do not have precisely the same meaning on each occasion they are used. A few easily recognized examples are, salvation; peace; coming; faith. Therefore we will not be surprised that the word “fornication” is used in different ways in different Scriptures. Moreover the fact that Matthew wrote his gospel with the Jewish nation particularly in view must be borne in mind when considering Matt.5.32 and 19.9.

Furthermore, in these verses, two different Greek words are used, namely “fornication” and “adultery”. Since the Lord would not have chosen different words merely for the sake of variety, there is obviously a difference in meaning between the two. To deny this is tantamount to a denial of plenary inspiration.

It is well known that with the Jews the betrothal period was considered to be the start of the marriage. During the time between the betrothal and the wedding feast the woman was often referred to as “the wife”. This period of betrothal had a legal standing, different in every way from the modem idea of the engagement period. Thus Joseph was told by the angel “fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife:” Matt. 1.20. This was “before they came together,” Matt. 1.18. Legally Joseph was entitled to “put her away” on the ground of fornication, that is seeming immorality during the betrothal period. It is firmly believed by the author, that this is the limited period to which the Saviour referred in Matt.5.32 and 19.9. Once the marriage had been celebrated at the wedding feast, the Saviour’s words would give no authority for “putting away”.

To quote another, “we believe that every fair minded reader will follow us in concluding that the parenthetical phrases “saving for the cause of fornication” and “except it be for fornication” in Matt.5.32 and 19.9 respectively, are not to be taken to contradict the whole trend of His remarks wherein He is setting forth the indissolubility of the marriage relation and the union into one flesh of two bodies, but simply to allow of the termination of a betrothal contract if the woman is found guilty of impurity before the marriage is consummated.”

The fact that the Saviour was referring, in Matthew, to a circumstance that could only apply to a Jewish situation, is borne out by no reference being made to it in either Mark or Luke. These two records are definite. Mark 10.11,12, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adulteiy.” Luke 16.18, “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from (her) husband committeth adultery.”

These verses clearly teach that even if a couple are divorced according to the law of the land, this has no Divine approval and their marriage is still valid in the sight of God.

In the light of the above, no one who has been divorced and seeks “remarriage” can truthfully vow in the sight of God “I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I may not be joined in matrimony to…”, as long as the original matrimonial partner is still living. Neither can such a one say truthfully before God “I do take thee to be my lawful wedded husband/wife”. To make such statements is to profess that the laws of men override the commands of God.

This leads to the further truth, that believers should never participate in a ceremony where those who have been divorced are involved.


There is another question which needs to be addressed. What are the implications of this teaching on reception to the fellowship of the assembly?

There can be no argument that those guilty of immorality must be disciplined and put away from the assembly, lCor.5. Where there is a cessation of such behaviour and true repentance, there should be restoration in due course. However, if there should be a divorce and either party “remarry” while the original partner is still alive, then according to the several Scriptures previously expounded, they will be living in adultery. Such cannot be allowed in assembly fellowship while they continue in that state, since we cannot receive sin into the assembly.

This brings us to the vexed question as to the position of those who have been saved subsequent to their divorce and “remarriage”. If the former reasoning, based solely on Scripture, has been followed then we will have to agree that “remarriage” does not invalidate the original marriage. Therefore such are, in effect, living in adultery. Their sin is remitted by God at the moment of their salvation. Some will argue that because of this they should be received in to the fellowship. However, reception depends, among other things, upon a willingness to “continue stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” Acts 2.42, and we have already seen what this doctrine was in connection with holiness of life and testimony. The whole point is not their standing in the sight of God as the result of their salvation, but their present position on earth, which is that of living in adultery. The local assembly, the temple of God, (lCor.3.17), is to be holy. If this standard is to be maintained, those living in an adulterous relationship cannot possibly be received. We must remember that if such were to be received, we would be saying that God has two standards, one for the saved and a different one for the unsaved. The suggestion is that for unsaved folk to live in adultery would be sinful, but if saved, their relationship becomes holy. Salvation does not make sinful deeds holy.

If we believe that those saved after such a “remarriage” should be received into the fellowship, then we must face up to the following situation. A brother in fellowship marries an unsaved divorcee and as a consequence has to be put away from the assembly. Subsequently she is saved. By the reasoning of some, she could be received into fellowship, but not her “husband”!


Some will quote lCor.6.11: “such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God,” and by this quotation seem to suggest that the Corinthians continued in their pre-conversion relationships. However it is evident that those addressed, while living in sin in the past, had changed their way of life as a result of their salvation. Their present position, not only in the sight of God but also in the world, was completely different. This is not so with those who continue to live in an unholy and unscriptural relationship. Take the position of a man and a woman living together but unmarried prior to conversion. Are they to be received because God has forgiven them, even if they continue to live in such a way? Again, if a person was a partner in a business canying on illegal or fraudulent activities and he was saved, if he continued in the same way of life should he be received? Of course not. Similarly with those who continue to live in sin. This is the crux of the matter, their present way of life. We must remember there are some steps taken before salvation, the consequences of which we cannot eradicate subsequent to salvation.

Some will argue that the Lord did not condemn the woman taken in adultery (John 8), and therefore we should be equally compassionate. The Lord, of course, stressed that He had not come to judge, but He did tell her “go and sin no more.” It is this continuing in sin that bars from reception.

Others will direct us to the words in Rom. 15.7, “Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the gloiy of God.” Leaving aside just what is referred to by “reception” in this verse, the overriding words are “to the glory of God.” It will not be to His glory to allow into the assembly, the Holy of Holies, those living in an unholy way.

Again 1 Cor. 1.9 is quoted, “ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord”, suggesting that we are denying this fellowship if such persons are not received. Yet this fellowship is not that of the local assembly, but the fellowship with divine Persons, which is automatically the portion of all who are saved. This is a position into which every believer is brought, whether appreciated or not.

It is claimed that to refuse to receive those who are saved subsequent to “remarriage” will take the heart out of gospel preaching. We have no idea when preaching what problems will have to be faced by those who trust the Saviour,

or what will need adjustment before reception. We need not be surprised that Satan will seek to make it increasingly difficult for the testimonies of the Lord’s people. These difficulties will multiply as we approach His coming. It is not ours to seek to improve society, or to water down the Word of God to make the corruption in society more palatable. It is ours to “preach the word” and represent God’s holy standards aright.

No doubt we will be accused of overriding the opinions of distinguished brethren of a past day. However we must base opinions and convictions on what the Scriptures teach. We are responsible to base all our teaching on the Word of God. It may be reasonably asked if godly men of a former generation had been able to anticipate the confusion stemming from their teaching in a society corrupt beyond their thinking, would they have had second thoughts?

Some will ask why there should be such varying views on this very important matter. The sad answer is that this applies to every New Testament truth. Regarding divorce the varying views seem to stem from a concentration upon Matt.5.32 alone, while ignoring the overall teaching of the Scriptures. It is not a good rule of exposition to allow unclear Scriptures to override those which are very clear.

We must always bear in mind that it is the holiness of God’s house that is of paramount importance, not the feelings of any individual believer. While it may seem harsh and unfair to refuse the fellowship to such believers, this was exactly the position of some of the priestly family in a bygone day. Was it the fault of the priest that he was bom with a flat nose or was a dwarf? Yet such were banned from approaching the altar (Lev.21).

We trust this article will provoke a study of the Scriptures to ascertain, “what saith the Lord?”