The Guilty Party

Those who believe the traditional view on divorce and remarriage believe that when an innocent man divorces his guilty wife (guilty of fornication), he is free and clear of the marriage and is granted the right by God to take a new wife. However, they believe that the wife is still somehow bound to him, based on their understanding of Rom. 7:2 and I Cor. 7:39. They therefore teach that a woman divorced for fornication may not marry another man.

When these people read Paul's admonition that a wife is not to depart from her husband and is to remain unmarried or be reconciled if she does depart (I Cor. 7:11), they nonetheless allow for a divorce due to fornication and state that in such cases the wife may marry someone else. On the other hand, these same people do not allow Paul, or anyone else, to help us understand the meaning of Rom. 7:2 and I Cor. 7:39. Paul is very clear that unmarried persons may marry (I Cor. 7:8-9, 27-28). And traditionalists (called so because they believe the views that have been generally accepted in churches of Christ for the past sixty or so years) freely admit that the woman divorced for fornication is unmarried. Yet they continue to say that she may not marry after her divorce. I am wondering why she is not free to marry since she is indeed unmarried and Paul tells us that unmarried people may marry.

The only concept I can come up with is that traditionalists believe a fornicator must be punished for her evil deeds and no longer has a right to a marriage even though she is single and Paul said single people may marry. This might make some sense if God were in the habit of making penalties for sin, but He is not.

Also, if the guilty woman's right to marry again has been taken away because of her sin, then how can the man who divorced her relieve her of her punishment if he decides he wants to marry her again? Traditionalists are quite happy (and joyfully broadcast the news far and wide) when a divorced fornicator remarries the husband who divorced her. Some even want a second marriage to be ended and the woman to go back to her first husband, which flies in the face of Deut. 24:4 and is an abomination to God. 

How can this be? Can the fornicator's ex-husband, simply at his own whim, take away the punishment given to her by God? Has she not given up her right to marriage by her evil deeds if indeed anyone who marries her commits adultery? Remember, "whosoever [emphasis mine] marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery." Does not "whosoever" include the innocent man who put away the woman? In fact, how can the woman marry again even if her first husband dies if whoever marries her commits adultery? Her first husband's death should not change her fate if indeed she is being punished.

But traditionalists claim that she may remarry the man who divorced her. Why? What is the reasoning behind this belief that she may remarry her previous husband? The divorce is a good and valid divorce. The innocent is as free as if he had never been married. And whosoever marries the woman he put away commits adultery. Is the man who divorced her not a part of "whosoever"? He is no longer married to her any more than some other man is married to her, so what right does he have to marry her when nobody else has the right?

Traditionalists have an answer for this. They say that a wife is bound by the law to her husband until he dies (again, Rom. 7:2 and I Cor. 7:39). But to accept that this applies to a woman divorced for fornication, they must accept that when the man who divorced his wife for fornication marries again he then has two women bound to him--his new wife that he had a right to take after his "scriptural" divorce and the old wife whom he "scripturally" divorced. Traditionalists are okay with this. They believe God is pleased that this man has two women bound to him.

However, traditionalists also accept that fornication can break the bond and a wife is not bound to her husband until he dies if he commits fornication and she divorces him. So they see this as only a one-way binding. The idea is nowhere expressed in the Word of God, but it is what they have to accept in order to continue to teach this doctrine.

If that is what they believe, then I suppose they have that right. But they need to answer the question I am posing: If the man who divorces his fornicating wife is no longer bound to her and further no longer married to her, and whosoever marries her commits adultery, then why do traditionalists rejoice when he himself marries her? Should they not condemn him as an adulterer as they would any other man who marries her?

We need to be very careful that we not turn cartwheels in an effort to explain our inconsistencies and in so doing go against the will of God by forbidding certain unmarried people from marrying (I Tim. 4:1-3). We cannot accept that it is pleasing to God for a man to have two women bound to him, and we cannot refuse to accept Paul's words that the unmarried may marry. How simple the law of God is, and how merciless some are in their attempts to "bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers" (Mt. 23:4).

Tina Rae Collins