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Jerry Cutter

The title of my topic gives the general direction my discourse is to take. However, more specifically, I have been asked to address three points:

Does the innocent party of a divorce have any alternatives for remarriage if their spouse divorces them for frivolous reasons?

  1. Is it permissible for a Christian to go before the leadership of a congregation and scripturally “put away” their spouse, even after they are divorced according to the laws of the land, possibly other reasons?
  2. Can the guilty party in a divorce ever scripturally remarry?

By way of introduction, we must first say a word concerning the sacredness of marriage and the sinfulness of divorce.

Marriage is a sacred institution designed by God Himself. Believing this, we must also acknowledge that God has decreed what it takes to have a sacred marriage. Both male and female were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), indicating the spiritual nature of man. The first man and women became husband and wife (Genesis 2:18-25), and Jesus when discussing the divorce issue with the Pharisees, referred them all the way back to the beginning, quoting to them from Genesis. Three things are apparent from the beginning account.

  1. Marriage is to be PERMANENT. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother . . .”

  2. Marriage involves COMMITMENT. The man was to “cleave to his wife…”

  3. Marriage involves a FLESHLY TIE. “The two shall be one flesh.”

Jesus’ personal comment concerning the Genesis account was: “Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6). Marriage involves a formal, legal tie that binds together a consenting man and a consenting woman, with God joining them together.

Conversely, divorce involves the destruction of the sacred institution of marriage. Divorce is ugly and always involves sin in some way. Various explanations have been given concerning Malachi 2: 14-16, but it still says that God “hateth putting away.” They had broken a covenant which God had witnessed when they put away “the wife of their youth.” From antiquity, there have been divorces, and Jesus himself spoke of “a writing of divorcement” (Matthew 5:31). A divorce involves the severing of the formal, or legal tie, and may not necessarily be a God-approved action.

Thus, a Christian marriage is more than a civil contract. In a Christian marriage two are joined to one another and at the same time to the law of God.

We hope that our brief definitions and explanations will help us understand the subject at hand.

Question 1 – Does the innocent party of a divorce have any alternatives for remarriage if their spouse divorces them for frivolous reasons?

Case number one. This question pre-supposes a guilty party. This is indicated in the “innocent party” being put away. First, the guilty party cannot initiate a God-approved divorce. One cannot scripturally divorce one’s spouse for “frivolous reasons,” and neither can one divorce one’s spouse, “Except” if they commit adultery (Matthew 19:9).

They are both God-approved marriage and God-approved divorces. Of course, in the case of where one divorces one’s spouse for frivolous reasons, one must remained unmarried (Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Luke 16:18; Mark 10:11-12; Romans 7:3; 1 Corinthians 7:10-11).

Under the conditions outlined, neither can the one put away for “frivolous reasons” remarry. Sometimes celibacy is bound upon the innocent party also. For one who puts away his spouse for “frivolous reasons” Jesus said: “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a women shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.”

The question though is, what is the scriptural position of the innocent spouse when the guilty, or adulterous, party in a marriage gets a divorce, rather than the innocent? The conclusion is: God did not give the guilty spouse that right to begin with. All options lie at the feet of the innocent spouse, and the guilty party can never do anything that will take away these rights. What are the innocent party’s alternatives?They can exercise their scriptural rights at their discretion.

Case number two. Another occasion that I can think of that involves an innocent party being put away for “frivolous reasons,” is the case where a Christian is put away by an unbelieving spouse. The Apostle Paul deals with such a case in 1 Corinthians 7:15. The verse says: “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not in bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.” In this verse the word “depart” refers to divorce. This is true also of verses 10-11 (Thayer p. 674). As for the word “bondage,” it literally means “to enslave, subject” (Bauer, p. 206). “Bondage” means “to make a slave of, reduce to bondage” (Thayer, p. 158). The lexicons say that “bondage” is used as a figure of speech in 1 Corinthians 7:15. Thayer, p. 158, comments: “b. metaphor to be under bondage, held by constraint of law or necessity, in some mater, 1 Corinthians 7:15.” This is also true of 1 Corinthians 9:19. Bauer also lists bondage in 1 Corinthians 7:15 as a figure of speech.

In short, “bondage” in 1 Corinthians 7:15 refers to the marriage itself. The binding force is the “constraint of law.” Thus, if the unbeliever divorces the Christian, the Christian becomes free from the marriage, as free as if they had never been married. They are as free as a slave released by his master.

However, this can only be applied “to such cases.” It cannot be applied to Christians married to Christians (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). A Christian should not initiate a divorce, accept in a case of where adultery is involved (Matthew 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7: 10-13).

In the Greek, the rendering of “in such cases” is simply “in the such.” But, such what? In order to finish the sentence, the word “cases” is supplied by the translators. Thayer defines “such” to mean “such as this, of this kind or sort, with the article one who is such a character, such a one — 1 Corinthians 7 15.” Bauer defines the word: “In such cases, under such circumstances.” Most translations agree with Bauer s definition

The word “such” in the Greek may be either neuter or masculine. Where this is true, the text must, where possible, determine the gender. Only neuter will work here, for a masculine usage would contradict the text. The text involves both a brother and a sister.

Paul is giving information on how to handle a special case; namely one involving a Christian being divorced by an unbeliever. In such cases a brother or a sister is not under the bondage of the law, or they are free from the marriage.

Question 2 – Is it permissible for a Christian to go before the leadership of a congregation and scripturally “put away” their spouse, even after they are divorced according to the laws of the land, possibly for other reasons.

This question is similar to the first one. Simply, it involves a Christian divorced by civil law for something less than adultery. It infers that at sometime the Christian’s spouse commits adultery, either before or after the divorce. Can the Christian now go before the church and put away their spouse? Moreover, the question pre-supposes that no adultery is ever involved as far as the Christian is concerned. There would be no need for the Christian to go before the leadership of the congregation and “put away’ their spouse at a later date, if there had been.

What is the innocent Christian to do in such a case? First, I am not aware of any state in America at this time that allows divorce for adultery. If the laws exist, they are seldom used. So, even in cases of where a spouse admits adultery, or it can be proved, the divorce is granted for a more general reason. Usually, in the church, it is tacitly understood that the spouse is being put away for adultery.

However, no civil law can ever suspend a law of God. When the two laws come into conflict, we all know which law comes first (Acts 5:29). It is impossible to create a situation in which a Christian cannot exercise their scriptural rights.

In the above question, the inferred guilty party had no scriptural right to get a divorce to begin with. In fact, the guilty party has no scriptural rights at all.

Inasmuch as civil law does not generally allow divorce for adultery, what can the innocent Christian do? They can take it to the church. It is preferable to state the situation in writing. This eliminates the possibility of a misunderstanding in the future. The innocent Christian should explain that their spouse has committed adultery and that they are putting them away for that adultery. The church might even consider making up a letter of divorcement to be used by Christians whose spouses have committed adultery. Jesus Himself spoke of a writing of divorcement.

Remember that civil law only determines what a marriage is to a certain point. The guilty party may divorce and remarry according to civil law, but not according to God’s law. The same is true with divorce. Civil law allows divorce for many reasons. God’s law allows a Christian to divorce for one reason only. The final word for Christians is found in God’s Word, and when a Christian guilty of adultery divorces their spouse they violate God’s law.

There is nothing that the guilty spouse can do that will take away the God-given rights of the innocent. There are no scriptural limbo’s in marriage, created by the guilty party. God protects His children.

In the case of where a Christian divorces his spouse and no adultery has been committed, 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 must be observed. If such a situation develops, and no adultery is committed, then the Christian who got the divorce caused their spouse to commit adultery. Jesus said: “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” (Matthew 5:32).

If both Christians desired a divorce to begin with, and later one commits adultery, then both erred in getting a divorce, but both did not err in committing adultery. Remember, also, no Christian has the right to commit adultery, no matter how wronged they may have been in other ways.

The question at hand is answered by saying that a Christian who has not committed adultery, may go before the church and put away their spouse.

Question 3 Can a guilty party in a divorce ever scripturally remarry?

To state it another way, may a Christian guilty of adultery, and put away for that adultery, ever remarry? First, does not that which frees the one free the other? It does, but this does not really address the issue. Both are free from the marriage. If this were not true, then not even the innocent spouse could remarry without adulterating the previous marriage. There are no half-marriages. In our definition, we found marriage had a civil or legal tie, and a fleshly tie. God joins two Christian marriage when both ties exist. The severing of the legal tie by divorce does not destroy the marriage in the sight of God (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). Whoever marries such a divorced person commits adultery (Matthew 5:32). Man cannot put asunder what God has joined together. If, conversely one spouse commits adultery and no divorce has taken place, the marriage still exists. What binds two in marriage has not been completely severed. If the innocent spouse puts away their spouse after adultery takes place, then the marriage ceases to exist. Both spouses are free from the marriage, but only the innocent is free to remarry.

Marriage is more than a civil contract. Two Christians are bound to each other and to the law of God. It has been rightly said: “God planned marriage, established its bounds, and bestowed the state of marriage as a right given by Him to certain individuals upon meeting certain conditions.” For instance, divorce may free one from the civil contract, but not from the law of God.

It has also been said: “The right to marry, which God bestows on the human race (Genesis 2:18-24; 1 Corinthians 7:28), is a contingent right, that is, it is dependent on certain conditions.” That is the reason why some men and women must remain unmarried, although divorced (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).

This brings us to the question of rights. Who has a scriptural right to divorce and to remarry? The one guilty of adultery does not have the right to remarry because he does not have the God-given cause that bestows that right.

For the sinner, repentance does not mean restoration. Esau sold his birthright, a right given him by reason of him being the firstborn. He acted in a way that caused him to lose his birthright, and nothing could be done to regain it (Hebrews 12:14-17). Many in Israel lost their right to enter Canaan because of their rebellion against God. In society, felons lose certain rights that can never be regained, even though they pay every debt they owe to society. We see how a felon can be both free and not free.

One cannot remarry if put away for trivial reasons. Why then should one contend one guilty of the greater sin, adultery, can remarry?

Simply stated: 

First, the right to put away (divorce) is not given to one guilty of adultery.

Second, the cause (fornication) for remarriage is not given to one guilty of adultery.

Third, anyone who marries one put away commits adultery.
Jesus said, “Whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matthew 19:9). You might notice that in the Greek, in Matthew 19:9, the definite article is omitted in the second clause. This means that when one marries any put away person [put away for adultery pdc] one commits adultery. Only the innocent can put away their spouse. Remember, also, one joined to a harlot becomes one body with the harlot, “For two, saith He, shall be one flesh” (1 Corinthians 6:16). Therefore, “Flee fornication” (1 Corinthians 6:18).

One becomes guilty of harlotry when one joins oneself to a harlot. Likewise, whoever marries one divorced for adultery commits adultery.

We must never contend that one guilty of fornication, and put away for that fornication, is as free to remarry as the innocent spouse. It is rightly contended that “The ‘except for fornication’ phrase has little or no significance if the guilty party can emerge from the divorce with the same freedom to remarry that the innocent one is granted.” It makes no sense to contend one cannot remarry if put away for less than adultery, but remarry, if put away for adultery, after due repentance.

Thus, in considering the issue at hand, we must never contend that because two Christians are free from each other that they are free also to remarry. The reason: We are never free from the law of God, and whether either Christian can remarry again depends upon that law.

In conclusion: One put away for fornication is as free from the marriage as the one who put them away. But only the innocent spouse has the right to divorce and to remarry.

[This is from a sermon found in the Preacher’s Study Notes 1994.]

 Recommended articles:

Introducing the Church of Christ – Ronny Wade

God’s Sevenfold Unity – Jerry Cutter

Repentance – J. W. McGarvey


The Ancient Faith website is a thematic collection of scholarly yet simple Bible essays and sermons, many of which were composed by Restoration preachers such as J.W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Campbell. These courageous men of faith through hours of Bible investigation studied themselves out of denominationalism, asking for “the old paths” (Jer. 6:16) and seeking to return to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We hope you will join with these men in their fervent plea to restore “the ancient order,” “the ancient gospel” or, as it was sometimes called, “the ancient faith.”