BY HUGH FULFORD — In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ declared: “Furthermore, it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality (fornication, KJV; ASV), causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 5:31-32). Later, our Lord affirmed: “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality (fornication, KJV; ASV), and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).
Based on these two passages (and a number of others that address this serious subject), we learn that when two people marry, then divorce for any reason other than fornication (and the word covers all forms of sexual perversion, including homosexuality, bestiality, pedophilia, etc.), and remarry, four people are then guilty of committing adultery. To illustrate: Bill and Sue marry. After a few years they decide to divorce. Neither was guilty of fornication. They simply decide to end their marriage. Sometime later, Bill marries Jane (who had never been married before) and Sue marries Tom (who had been married once before). Now Bill and Jane and Sue and Tom are all living in adultery. If they are not, then what our Lord said has absolutely no meaning whatsoever, and He may as well have said nothing on the subject. This law of our Lord applies to all humanity—those in the church (Christians) and those out of the church (non-Christians). It applies to “whoever/whosoever” (cf. John 3:16; Revelation 22:17; et. al.). In both passages in Matthew (along with parallel texts in Mark and Luke), Christ is calling mankind back to God’s original plan, purpose, and intent for marriage—one man for one woman for life! (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:3-12).
By inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul wrote on this same subject. He said, “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man” (Romans 7:2-3). To the Corinthians Paul wrote: “And to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife” (I Corinthians 7:10-11). Thus, two people who are married to each other may not be able to compatibly live together and therefore may think it is best to separate. But neither has the right to marry anyone else. According to the Scriptures, their only acceptable options are to remain unmarried or else be reconciled to each other. So, indeed, a celibate life is demanded in some situations!
It is my contention that the preceding passages are not difficult to understand. All of us can comprehend what they say. The difficulty is not with understanding them but with honoring them and living by them. We live in a world and a culture that is both ignorant and unconcerned about what God has said about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. But ignorance or not caring does not change what God has said.
Unrepentant fornicators and adulterers cannot be saved (I Corinthians 6:9-10). Fornicators, adulterers, and all other sinners who will repent can be saved (I Corinthians 6:11). Repentance means to turn from the sin. I know of no sin that one can sincerely repent of and still continue in it. For example, two homosexual men who are married to one another by civil law (and are recognized thereby to be legally married to one another) hear the gospel and one or both desire to obey it and become Christians. This is commendable and exactly what they need to do and should do. But is there anyone who would claim that they may continue in their homosexual marriage after they obey the gospel? Suppose they have adopted two young children. Are they to stay married to each other “for the sake of the children”? Would their ending their homosexual marriage be “two wrongs trying to make a right”? Obviously, the innocent children should be treated with love, compassion and care, but can the two homosexuals remain in their marriage? Can a liar, a thief, an idolater, a drunkard, or an extortioner continue in such a lifestyle after obeying the gospel? Can a person in a false, man-made religion be baptized for the remission of his sins and still remain in the false, man-made religion? I do not know of any sin in which a person can continue if he/she has truly repented of that sin! Do you?
The Bible is clear about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. The Bible is clear that sin, including the sin of adultery, requires repentance and restitution to the extent possible. Every person involved in a second (or more) marriage must, in the light of God’s word, evaluate his/her situation and determine the course of action they need to take to be right with God. Without doubt, every marriage situation involves factors that are known only to the parties involved. I am not God’s lawyer sent by Him to “fix” other people’s marriages. Neither am I His judge or jury to decide their eternal fate (cf. John 5:28-29; John 12:48; II Corinthians 5:10). I did not write His law on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. I am His messenger to set forth what He has said about this matter, and I have done that in this article to the best of my ability and understanding and shall continue to do so in my oral preaching and teaching. I have no desire to add to what God’s word says about this matter. I certainly have no desire to be as the hypocritical Pharisees and “bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders” (Matthew 23:4). At the same time, I cannot be true to the word of God and set forth less than what it teaches on this matter (see Deuteronomy 4:2; Revelation 22:18-19).
We all have a Bible and can see what it says about this subject. Only those who have been involved in more than one marriage know why they married, divorced, and remarried. Only they can take whatever steps may be necessary to fix their present marriage. I would remind us all that it is better to be unhappy in this life and saved eternally in heaven than to be happy in this life and lost forever in hell!
“Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled. But fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).
Hugh Fulford, October 10, 2023
- October 11: Nashville Road Church of Christ , Gallatin, TN (7 p.m.) (Special Fall Series)
- October 12: West Riverside Church of Christ, McMinnville, TN (6 p.m.)
- October 15: Belinda Parkway Church of Christ, Mount Juliet, TN (9 & 10 a.m.)
- October 18: Nashville Road Church of Christ, Gallatin, TN (7 p.m. (Special Fall Series)