Review of Pat Donahue’s Article Entitled,
Just a Race to the Lawyer's Office???”

by Bill H. Reeves

(Brother Donahue’s Article Is In Bold Font)

Someone coined the term "mental divorce" to describe the teaching that a person that has been put away unscripturally may remarry scripturally if they divorce (in their mind) their former spouse because of their former spouse's fornication, such fornication having occurred either before or after the actual divorce.

Pat doesn’t tell us who coined the phrase.  It is my understanding that the term originated among brethren who affirmed the right to mentally put away (for fornication) and to remarry on the part of the spouse who, along with his partner, agrees to a civil divorce and then out-waits the partner in the matter of committing fornication. Such brethren would willingly accept the phrase “mental divorce.”

Be it as it may, the phrase has wrongfully been applied in recent times to the rejection (putting away), on the part of a faithful spouse, of a mate that has committed fornication after having unlawfully rejected (put away) the innocent, faithful spouse.  Rejection is a verb of action, and NOT something merely “in the mind.”  The phrase, then, is a misnomer.  Honest brethren will desist in using it against their brethren who vehemently deny any such application because their position is in no way merely a “mental” one.  Repudiate, a verb used by Thayer to define, as to divorce, the Greek word Apoluo, is a verb of action, and not of mere mental process.  Webster gives as synonyms of repudiate the following verbs of action: disavow, disown, discard, abjure, renounce, disclaim, divorce.  To call such action “mental divorce” can serve no purpose but that of misrepresentation to the hurt of good brethren.  But this is what is being done, and Pat approves of it.  A position that employs prejudicial language is obviously a false one; truth doesn’t need nor employ such carnal tactics!

Pat’s position is this: a person classified as a “put-away person” has no right to remarry, regardless of when the fornication by the unfaithful mate occurred.  His right to remarriage is denied solely on the fact that he is a put-away person.  Fornication (the divine cause) is totally irrelevant and inconsequential.

This is a false premise on which he builds his entire argument.  Jesus based the right to remarriage on the innocent spouse’s having the cause of fornication that the unfaithful mate has committed.

This false premise demands the conclusion that the issue becomes one of “a race to the lawyer’s office.”  Pat recognizes this and admits it!  He is honest and somewhat consistent.  (He is inconsistent in not making the same argument against the “putting-away person” that he makes against the “put-away person”).

Jesus based the divine permission on CAUSE (fornication); Pat denies the divine permission based on CLASSIFICATION (“put-away person”).

One of the most used arguments for this position is that if this is not so, then it just becomes a "race to the lawyer's office." The argument is that if a man cheats on his wife, and then divorces her unscripturally before his wife can divorce him scripturally, then that means that whoever gets the divorce first ("gets to the lawyer's office first") affects whether or not the woman can remarry in this situation, and that just can't be so! What is the answer to this argument?

There is no answer to this conclusion; it simply must follow, and Pat is about to admit it.  He is consistent, thus far.

Some who oppose some of the types of "mental divorce," answer the argument by explaining a means by which the wife can remarry in this case, thereby hedging in their opposition to "mental divorce." But this is not the correct answer. The correct answer is that the possibility of scriptural remarriage on the part of the woman in this situation does depend upon who gets the actual divorce. Sometimes it is a race to the lawyer's office!

Here Pat argues with those that also oppose what he calls the “mental divorce” position.  He is saying that they are giving the wrong answer; that they are hedging.  And, he is right IF a person, merely because of being classified, or categorized, as a “put-away person,” may not under any circumstances be remarried.  Pat is consistent in part, but is wrong in his premise!

To be consistent Pat must also affirm that any and all persons, classified as “putting-away persons,” may not under any circumstances be remarried!  If the one is to be classified, so must the other.  If one is put in the “no-remarriage-box,” so must the other, because both the putting-away person, and the put-away person, OF WHICH JESUS SPOKE, commit adultery upon remarriage!  This cannot be denied.

Pat says that the matter depends upon “who gets the actual divorce.” But, he does not de-fine “actual divorce”!  This is a creation of his, and therefore an ipse dixit. Nowhere in the Scriptures is reference made to “actual divorce.”  That is a man-made description, a creation for support of a position.

By saying “actual divorce,” Pat implies that there are divorces, or claims of divorce, that are not “actual.”

Later in his article Pat complains that others use the phrases, “in the eyes of God,” and “in the eyes of man.”  But here he uses the phrase, “actual divorce.”  What he means by his concoction, “actual divorce,” is the first divorce obtained at the courthouse, regardless of whether it is a scriptural divorce or not!  He accepts the consequence of his position: one must win the “race to the lawyer’s office”!  Winning the race makes the particular divorce an “actual” one!

If the race to the courthouse wins for an innocent, non-put-away spouse a divorce for fornication, then that divorce, according to Pat, is an “actual divorce.”  Also, if the particular race to the courthouse wins for an UNGODLY spouse a divorce NOT for fornication, then that divorce, according to Pat, also is an “actual divorce.”  But in either case, the whole issue hinges on one’s winning the race to the lawyer’s office (to the courthouse)!  Scripture, please!

Once the race is won by whomever, there is no further consideration.  All is settled.  If the godly spouse wins it, fine; he may remarry.  If the ungodly spouse wins it; too bad for the innocent, put-away mate.  For him the divine permission has been nullified by the action of the ungodly spouse in a court of men!  Pat is consistent; many of his sympathizers try to avoid the logical consequence: God’s permission hinges on a race to a lawyer’s office!

The First Type Of "Mental Divorce“

I mentioned that there are different types of "mental divorce." What I call the first type is when a man divorces his wife unscripturally and then remarries, thereby committing adultery after the divorce. Some say that the already put away woman can then remarry in this case by "putting away" (in her mind) her former husband for fornication. But Luke 16:18
directly condemns this scenario.

Pat’s “first type” scenario is not found in Luke 16:18 (nor anywhere else).  Jesus in Luke 16:18 is not presenting such a scenario.  Jesus is talking about the consequence of remarriage for a man who puts away a wife not for fornication, and that of marriage for a man who might marry such a put-away wife.

Pat reads SEQUENCE in between parts “a” and “b” of Luke 16:18, but there is none there!  He reads a “then,” or an “afterwards,” between the two parts.  See the second “then” is his statement above?  Jesus did not deal with a man marrying the put-away woman AFTER the husband had gone out and remarried!

Jesus addresses the consequence (which is adultery) of the action of two men: the husband who puts away a wife for just any reason and remarries, and the man who might marry such a put-away wife.  Pat ignores the context and, building a “no-remarriage-box,” puts the wife in it and consistently claims that, no matter what, she may not remarry.  However, he conveniently passes over his reasoning for the wife and will NOT build a “no-remarriage-box” for the husband and claim that, no matter what, a putting-away man may never remarry!  Luke 16:18 is pressed into service to serve his “put-away woman,” but is conveniently ignored as to the “putting-away man.”

There are a few brethren, who consistently misapplying both parts of Luke 16:18, will debate Pat, arguing that the passage denies remarriage to BOTH the husband and the wife.  They do with part “a” what he does with part “b.”  They build two boxes; Pat, just one.  Jesus builds none!

Jesus in Luke 16:18 mentions the consequence of a certain action (putting away not for fornication) for two particular men; Pat ignores the context and uses the passage to create a classification of woman (the “put-away woman”) that, solely because of the classification, is not permitted to exercise a divine right, while inconsistently not creating a classification of man (the “putting-away man”) that is not permitted, solely because of the classification, to exercise a divine right.

Pat misrepresents his opponent by charging a putting-away that is solely “in her mind.” The Greek word APOLUO, which according to Thayer, in the matter of divorce, means “dismiss” or “repudiate,” is a verb of action, not of mere mental process.  The putting-away husband repudiates his wife, and the wife may exercise the same action: repudiate him.  Apoluo does not mean simply putting physical space between two people; it means rejection!  In marriage two make vows and two can disavow, or reject the mate.  (The physical separation is the result of the repudiation or rejection). If her rejection is “mental divorce,” what is his?  They both “Apoluo;” do they both mentally divorce?

If Pat had in mind those brethren who actually claim a “mental divorce,” he might make a point.  But he has in mind other brethren: those of us who utterly reject the mental-divorce claim of such brethren and who rightly claim that both parties of a marriage covenant can exercise the action of repudiation or rejection!  God never gave to an ungodly spouse the power to deny the faithful mate’s right to exercise a divine permission!  Pat wants to give him that power.  Pat has the ungodly tying God’s hands so that He can’t grant a divine right to the innocent spouse.  God is stymied by a man-made box!  What a doctrine!

I believe that Luke 16:18b ("and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery") is a general statement that would condemn the remarriage of any put away person, whether that person has been put away for fornication, or for some other reason. But if this clause only applied to just one particular situation, it would apply to the mental divorce situation just described.

By the same token, Pat has to believe (though he does not) that 16:18a is a general statement that would condemn the remarriage of any putting-away person, whether he puts away “for fornication, or for some other reason”.  His ipse dixit on the “b” part must equally be applied to the “a” part.

This passage is not a “general” statement; it is a statement made in a context.  It does not treat the scenario that Pat treats, but the one projected by the Pharisees: the right to put away for any and every cause.  Where no fornication (the one and only cause given by Jesus for putting away and remarrying) is in evidence, both the husband putting away a wife and remarrying commits adultery, and so does the man who might marry the wife so put-away.

Luke 16:18 in no way describes what Pat erroneously calls “the mental divorce situation.”  There is no actual putting-away done by anyone who then later actually marries another, and then later another man comes along and actually marries the put-away wife.  This is what Pat and others read into the passage, thus perverting it instead of rightly dividing it.

The basic error of Pat and others is ignoring the context in which Jesus simply describes two men (a putting-away-for-just-any-cause man; and a marrying-the-put-away-from-a-husband-woman man) and the consequence of marriage for them.  They ignore this, and see rather an actual case of sequential events stated in the indicative mood, and from this draw their conclusions!                      

Pat says: “I believe that Luke 16:18b … is a general statement that would condemn the remarriage of any put away person.”  We remind Pat that there are other brethren that believe that Luke 16:18a is a general statement that would condemn the remarriage of any putting-away person!   Pat believes; they believe!  So?

Notice that the subject of verse 18a (the man) divorces his wife unscripturally, and then marries another, thereby committing adultery. So far this is the exact "mental divorce" scenario under consideration.

If Pat recognizes that “repudiation” is not solely a mental process, then he should abandon the prejudicial and false label of “mental divorce.”  Jesus said, Apoluo, and Thayer says that it means, repudiate, and Pat surely knows that Jesus did not mean solely a mental process!

But Pat does not say, repudiate; he says divorce.  By that word, divorce, (judging by his use of it in his article) he means courthouse action.  But there is no courthouse action in the Greek word, Apoluo.  The word does not mean some action that is solely in the mind, and therefore the only reason for saying, “mental divorce” is to misrepresent the opponent and thereby prejudice minds.

Let Pat leave his word “divorce,” with its common connotation of court-house action, and speak of “repudiation,” as Thayer does, and then he would have to say, “mental repudiation.”  But that would not serve his prejudicial purpose!

The word “divorce” means basically “separate.”  The word “divert” is from the same Latin stem.  One might “divorce” himself from his bad habits.  There is no courthouse in the basic meaning of the word “divorce.”

No, “so far this is” NOT “the exact ‘mental divorce’ scenario under consideration.” Jesus does not say that a man actually went out and divorced his wife and then he married another woman.  What he said in this passage literally is this: “Every dismissing-his-wife-and-marrying-another one commits adultery.”

Jesus describes one (with two participial phrases) who commits adultery; it is every man who does this: puts away his wife and marries another.  (Obviously it is everyone who does this without the divine cause, fornication!  On this Pat and I agree).  The two participial phrases act as adjectives to describe who the man is that commits adultery.  It is every “putting-away-his-wife-and-marrying-another” man, or husband.

So Jesus describes a particular man; he does not address what a particular man actually went out and did! There is no sequence of actual events taking place.  He is telling us that a certain action, on the part of a husband, produces adultery.  That is all that he is saying here.  This is what we all need to learn: adultery is committed if one should put away his wife for any reason, excepting fornication, and should remarry.  That is the point, period!

Now the question is, may the man's former wife remarry because he is now committing fornication? Verse 18b directly answers this question. It says that if one marries that woman (the woman who has been put away unscripturally, and whose former husband has remarried therefore now committing fornication), it is adultery! How much clearer could Jesus have been on this situation?

The husband to whom Jesus refers in Luke 16:18a is NOT NOW COMMITING FORNICATION!  He is not doing anything!  The Greek text simply indicates the man that would commit adultery should he do such and such.  It is such and such a man that commits adultery.  Let us rightly divide the Scriptures; not pervert them!

There being no actual events transpiring, there is no reference to what a wife may or may not NOW do!  Let’s look at Greek text in part “b.”

“and the marrying-a-woman-having-been-dismissed-from-a-husband one commits adultery.”

Who is also the one who commits adultery?  This one: the “marrying-a-woman-having-been-dismissed-from-a-husband” one!

Again we see that Jesus simply describes a particular man by using two participles (that act as adjectives), and tells us that every one of these commits adultery. It is every man that marries a wife that has been repudiated without cause from her husband, such as in the context of Jesus’ words.

Jesus is not discussing sequence of actual events.  He is not saying that a man, after other certain events have transpired, now goes out and does a particular thing himself.  He is simply indicating a second man that would be committing adultery should he do such and such.

The reason why this man would commit adultery should he marry a wife put away unscripturally (as Pat rightly admits), is because the wife would not have been released by God from her marriage covenant since fornication would not have been the cause of her ungodly husband’s actions in repudiating her.

Where no fornication is in evidence, Jesus tells us that both such men would commit adultery.  The reason is not some “box” concocted by men but simply because God controls the marriage bond and he releases neither the husband nor the wife for remarriage where no fornication serves as the cause for the repudiation.

This is WHY Jesus tells us that adultery is what is committed by the two described men: the husband and the second man.  The husband has no right to another woman; the second man has no right to the husband’s wife!

Brethren need to learn to stay with the context.

Jesus does NOT say that “if one marries that woman (the woman who has been put away unscripturally, and whose former husband has remarried and therefore is now committing fornication), it is adultery!”

Pat has Jesus relating a case that transpired, one in which a husband put away his wife unscripturally, then went out and remarried, and is now committing adultery, and then later another man comes along and marries the put-away wife.  Pat (and others) sees that, but Jesus didn’t say that!  They argue on what they project into the text, not on what the text actually says.

Look at the interlinear Greek-English:

Everyone dismissing the wife of him and marrying another commits adultery, and the (one) a woman having been dismissed from a husband marrying commits adultery. (Marshall’s Interlinear).  The Greek texts employs two participles (not two verbs in the indicative mood, which would indicate actual events) to describe (as adjectives do) two men.  For example, the English “the disciple who came to the Lord said,” in the Greek is “the coming to the Lord disciple said.” Who said? The coming-to-the-Lord disciple said.  The disciple, by means of a participial phrase, which serves as an adjective, is thus indicated.

We are asked: How much clearer could Jesus have been on this situation?  We ask Pat: On what situation? Jesus is very clear on the situation that he addresses: the consequence (adultery) for a certain described husband, and for a certain described another man.  Jesus’ clarity has no bearing at all on a situation that others concoct: a sequence of actual events in which one event chronologically follows another in a chain of events.  Pat needs some adverbs, such as “then,” “afterwards,” “later,” etc. in the text, but they are not there!  So, he supplies them (in his flawed argumentation).  Jesus doesn’t put them there; Pat and his cohorts do!  Then they proceed to argue on what they added to the text.

Let me repeat, I don't think that Luke 16:18b refutes this mental divorce position only. That would be limiting the words to much less than what Jesus intended for them apply. But there is no way to get around the fact that Luke 16:18b does refute this one situation. If it refutes anything, it refutes this mental divorce position; the words of Luke 16:18 fit this mental divorce position exactly!

Luke 16:18b in no way sets forth the scenario of what Pat likes to call the “mental divorce position.” Jesus uses the word Apoluo, which carries with it no inherent civil divorce action at all!  It means in English, Thayer tells us, to dismiss or repudiate.  But Pat must use the English word “divorce” because he knows that the common idea inherent in that word today involves a trip to the lawyer’s office!  That is why he and others with him never speak of the “mental repudiation position.”  Need we remind some that the apostles wrote in Greek, not in English?

If repudiation (Apoluo) is solely “mental,” then not only the unlawfully put-away wife, upon Apoluoing, does something purely mental, but the husband who unlawfully repudiates his wife is also “mentally divorcing.” It works both ways!

What “the words of Luke 16:18b fit exactly” is the description of a man who commits adultery in a particular situation: he is one who marries a wife whose husband has put her away not for fornication.  She is still his wife because God does not release a husband from his marriage covenant should he not put her away for fornication.  A second man, marrying another’s wife, of course is a man who commits adultery.  This is what exactly fits what 16:18b is saying!

Some who join me in opposing this first position will accept what I call the second type of mental divorce. The difference in the second type and the first type is that the man in the second type commits adultery prior to divorcing his wife. When a man cheats on his wife (commits adultery) and then unscripturally divorces her, the claim is made that since the husband has committed fornication, the wife has "grounds" and ought to be able to remarry, even though she did not actually get the divorce.

In the above scenario, yes, the wife, if innocent in the matter of the fornication committed, has the “grounds” (Jesus says, cause) for repudiating her fornicator-husband and is divinely permitted to remarry without committing adultery.

Pat leaves out (conveniently or otherwise) the repudiation which must precede the remarriage.  He says: “the wife has the ‘grounds’ and ought to be able to remarry.” No, a faithful wife, if she has the divine cause, may repudiate and may remarry (not just remarry).  No one (of us brethren) is advocating polygamy!

“Even though she did not actually get the divorce,” Pat says.  We ask: Get which divorce?  Pat means what he earlier called the “actual divorce.” This concoction of his means the first divorce obtained at the courthouse, regardless of whether it is a scriptural divorce or not!  He accepts the consequence of his position: one must win the “race to the lawyer’s office”!  Winning the race makes the particular divorce an “actual” one!  This is what he means when he says, “she did not actually get the divorce.”

“She did not actually get the divorce,” Pat says.  Notice: “the divorce,” he says.  Well, obviously the innocent, faithful wife did not get the unscriptural divorce that her ungodly husband proceeded to get!  Why would she want to get an unscriptural divorce?  Has Pat lost his mind?

No, he has not lost his mind; rather, he is using his mind to mislead his readers into thinking that “the divorce” must be the so-called “actual divorce,” which, according to Pat, is the divorce won in the race to the courthouse!

Besides, if this position is not true, its advocates say, then it just becomes a "race to the lawyer's office." Though it is true that the wife in this situation has the grounds, just having the grounds is not enough. Nobody believes that just because a husband commits fornication, that the wife can remarry a second husband without first divorcing her first spouse. That would be polygamy! No, everybody realizes that she must first divorce her husband (for his fornication), and then she may remarry. Having the grounds is not enough; a person must divorce their spouse on those grounds to be eligible for scriptural remarriage.

Yes, “’it just becomes a ‘race to the lawyer’s office.’”  Many who agree with Pat on what he calls the “Mental Divorce Position,” don’t want to accept the consequence of their doctrine.  But Pat is consistent and accepts the “race to the lawyer’s office,” because to him (and to many of them) everything hinges on who first gets the civil divorce!  This is Pat’s “actual divorce.”  Nothing else counts.

Yes, it would be polygamy for a married person to marry another without first repudiating the original spouse. Yes, in Pat’s scenario, “she must first divorce her husband (for his fornication), and then she may remarry.”  (By “divorce,” we mean what Jesus meant when he said, Apoluo—dismiss, repudiate).

Will Pat make his last statement above, substituting “repudiate” for “divorce”?

“Everybody realizes that she must first divorce her husband (for his fornication), and then she may remarry. Having the grounds is not enough; a person must divorce their spouse on those grounds to be eligible for scriptural remarriage,” Pat says.  Well, why won’t he let her do that?  Why does he forbid her to divorce (Apoluo) her spouse on the grounds of fornication?  We affirm, along with Pat here, that she may.  But he won’t permit it for one simple reason of his own making: her husband beat her to it!  He was first to get a civil divorce (albeit an admittedly unscriptural divorce)!  The judge unscripturally said the he was declared divorced, and that automatically, according to human laws, made her divorced also.  Now that she is in Pat’s “put-away-box,” she can’t get out!  He has her bound to the fornicator-mate for life!

The conclusion?: a woman put away by a fornicating husband may have the scriptural "grounds" for divorce, but since she has already been put away, she has lost the opportunity/option of putting away her husband on those grounds.

Who says so?  Bro. Pat.  On what grounds?  On the grounds of his having classified her as a “put-away woman,” and, having boxed her in, has deprived her of her divine right!

One looks in vain, in Matt. 5, 19, Mark 10, or Luke 16 for any words directed by Jesus to the so-called “put-away woman.”  He does direct words to two different men (to any husband, and to another man) but not to a woman!  It is like the Catholics who refer to “the Virgin Mary,” as if that were a Bible phrase.  Yes the Bible speaks of a virgin whose name was Mary (Lk. 1:27), but never refers to “the Virgin Mary.” Big difference!  Same thing here.  Jesus refers to “a marrying-a put-away-woman man,” but never refers to a category of women called “the put-away woman,” nor directs a single word to such a category of women!

Pat is honest to admit that his doctrine demands that the opportunity / option (i.e., divine permission) of putting away (Apoluo) her fornicating-husband is lost because her fornicator-husband was the first to get a civil divorce.  He puts everything into the hands of the ungodly husband and the pagan courts of men. Man has taken it away from God!  God has been put in His place by man!  What a sad doctrine, but such is the folly of human wisdom.

At this point, the mental divorce advocates would like to call the unscriptural divorce, only a divorce "in the eyes of man," and therefore the woman put away by a fornicating husband still has the option of later divorcing (in her mind) her former husband "in the eyes of God." But this terminology doesn't do anything to help the position. Jesus teaches in Matthew 19:9b that whoever marries a put away woman commits adultery, and this includes (but is not limited to) the woman put away unscripturally. Let's read the phrase with that in mind: whoso marrieth her which is put away unscripturally doth commit adultery. Notice that the woman put away, even one put away unscripturally by a fornicating husband, is still a put away woman, therefore if she remarries, adultery occurs. Now let's read the phrase again using the terminology of those advocating mental divorce: whoso marrieth her which is put away "in the eyes of man" doth commit adultery. Clearly then, the mental divorce advocates' terminology notwithstanding, a woman put away by a fornicating husband commits adultery if and when she remarries.

An unscriptural divorce is approved, if at all, only “in the eyes of man.” Will Pat deny this?  No he will not!  The phrase “in the eyes of” means “approved by.”  Pat does not believe, anymore than his opponents, that an unlawful divorce, approved by men, is approved by God!  But Pat’s position demands that the unlawful divorce, of which ungodly men approve, but which God does not approve, has the power to take from God’s hands the divine permission for the innocent spouse to ever put away a fornicator-mate.

Pat misrepresents his brethren with the second half of his first sentence above.  We are not affirming that “therefore, …. (in her mind) …”  The reason that a faithful wife may repudiate (overt action) her fornicator-mate and remarry is that she has the divine cause that gives her that right to so act.  Jesus put no time-limit on the fornication committed; he gave it as the CAUSE!  By God’s approval (“in the eyes of God”) she may exercise the divine permission, if she opts to do so.

Pat represents his opponents as claiming that the unlawfully put-away wife has “the option of later divorcing (in her mind) her former husband ‘in the eyes of God’. “ He woefully misrepresents the passage as also his opponents!  Note:

1. Does anyone read in Matt. 19:9 the word “later?”  Jesus is not dealing with a scenario of what a wife later may or may not do.  That’s Pat’s scenario.  Jesus is answering the question of the Pharisees’ concerning what a husband may do for just any cause.  Pat and his sympathizers can’t stay with the context!  They prove themselves to be poor Bible exegetes here, although they are good exegetes in many other passages.

Matt. 19:9b is not talking about the scenario that Pat has set forth.  The wife in the passage is put away not for the cause of fornication, and that leaves her still the wife of the husband and therefore not available for marriage to another man.  Another man’s marriage to her would be adultery.

2. Again, Pat’s opponents are misrepresented as believing in “divorcing (in her mind).” No, his opponents believe in Apoluo, defined as dismiss or repudiate.  But Pat believes that one can’t do what Apoluo means without going to the lawyer’s office!  Where are his credentials for such a translation of Apoluo?  Just which recognized Greek authority can he cite for such? Our question is met with silence.

To Pat, “divorce” means a trip to the lawyer’s office to get a civil (man-made) divorce.  And, since that can be done only once, it must follow, he concludes, that no wife can ever do that, once the husband has done it, thus leaving her a “put-away-woman.”  So he further concludes that should she later try to divorce her husband for fornication, she would have to do it only “in her mind,” and that would be “mental divorce.”

The English word “divorce” today in the average mind conjures up the idea of trips to the lawyer’s office.  Pat and other brethren build their warped case on this.  He makes the divorce (unapproved “in the eyes of God”) obtained at the lawyer’s office the “actual divorce.” Since this can be obtained but once, there can be no further such “divorce.”  Any other attempt to get a so-called “actual divorce” would have to be a matter purely in the mind of a person; hence, a “mental divorce” and not an “actual divorce.”

The main thing wrong with this convoluted argument is that the New Testament wasn’t written in 21st century English.  Jesus didn’t use the English word “divorce,” deprived of its basic meaning of separation, and limited to court-house action only, but the word Apoluo, which translated into English, Thayer tells us, means, in reference to divorce, dismiss or repudiate.  As both spouses vow, both spouses may repudiate.  Pat wants to limit the repudiation to only one.  He knows that one may not do all of the vowing for both, but he sees no problem in one doing all of the repudiating for both!

In view of the above, it is easy to see why a certain English word, “divorce” (arbitrarily defined as trips to the lawyers’ offices to get an “actual divorce”) is germane to the arguments made by Pat and others, in their binding on others their denial of the God-given permission for the innocent to repudiate their fornicator-mate.

The Third Type Of "Mental Divorce"

The third type of mental divorce is upheld by many who oppose the first and second types, in spite of the fact that it is just a subset of the second type. This position says that if a fornicating husband divorces his wife, and the wife tries to keep the marriage together, she may not remarry, but if instead the wife counter sues (but is unsuccessful), or if she lets it be known to the court and to the brethren that she is agreeing to the divorce because her mate has committed fornication, then she may remarry. Again the argument is made that if this is not so, then it just becomes a "race to the lawyer's office."

Again Pat turns his guns on his brethren who in general agree with him on their so-called “mental divorce position,” because he sees them as hedging here in their opposition to the famous “mental divorce position” because of the argument made concerning “a race to the lawyer’s office.”  He is not afraid of the logical consequence of “a race to the lawyer’s office,” but he sees them as resisting the consequence.

But this argument from human reasoning and emotion will not hold up against Jesus' clear teaching. This position is condemned by exactly the same arguments that its advocates use to condemn the first two types of mental divorce. The basic answer is that just having the grounds, and divorcing for those grounds, are two different things. Jesus said that "whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery," and trying to get a divorce (but not succeeding), or agreeing to the divorce (agreeing to an unscriptural divorce is a sin anyway) because of the hus-band's fornication, does not change what Jesus said. If "trying to get a divorce” is just as good as "getting a divorce," then a woman who tries to get a divorce from her husband for fornication (said husband having no intentions of getting a divorce himself), but is unsuccessful (maybe the judge rules that her proof is insufficient), may remarry anyway! Polygamy would be justified after all.

Of course “trying to get a divorce,” and getting one, are two different things.  And, of course remarrying without getting a divorce would be polygamy in our present law-system.  (Who knows when it will change!)

But Pat rests his case totally upon his making an absolute out of a statement of Jesus which he takes out of context: "whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” Jesus is referring to marrying a wife who was put away not for fornication, but he applies the statement to a wife who has the cause of fornication on which to act.  Big difference!

So a woman who tries to get a divorce (but fails), or agrees to a divorce by her husband because he has committed fornication, is still the put away woman of Mt 5:32b, 19:9b, and Lk 16:18b, and therefore may not remarry scripturally.

Pat has created his “no marriage box,” has put all put-away women in it, and categorically claims that a woman put away by a fornicating husband commits adultery if and when she remarries.

Pat and his sympathizers box them in (but then some of his brethren will let them escape, under certain conditions, from Pat’s iron-clad rule.  The box has escape holes: (death of the putting-away spouse, and reconciliation to him).    

The woman that Jesus is talking about in Matt. 19:9b is a wife put away with no fornication being the cause; the woman Pat and others talk about is one who has had fornication committed “against her” (Mark 10:11).  Big difference!

Of course, if Pat is permitted to change Jesus’ wording, by using the indicative mood, indicating an actual set of chronological events (instead of the subjunctive, the mood of hypothesis, or supposition), and if he is permitted to insert a “then,” or “afterwards,” or “subsequently,” between 19:9a and 19:9 b, then he can get closer to making his fallacious argument.  But Pat is too honest to change God’s word; yet his argumentation demands such changes!

Pat misrepresents his opponent:  The woman of his scenario does not agree “to a divorce by her husband because he has committed fornication,” but uses the occasion of the unlawful divorce to state to the court and to brethren that she is divorcing him for fornication committed.

Whether or not a court in our land, at the present time, would allow this, or not, I do not know.  But it is certainly true that if she were permitted by the court to do so, she certainly could use the occasion to repudiate him for his fornication.

For a woman to be scripturally eligible for remarriage, three events must have occurred: (1) her husband must have committed fornication, (2) she must be the one to get the divorce (if her husband gets the divorce, even if she tried to divorce him but failed, she is disqualified), and (3) her divorce must be for (because of) fornication. In all three mental divorce cases, only the first event has occurred, the second and third events have not occurred, and therefore the woman may not scripturally remarry.

No, “three events must” NOT “have occurred.”  For a woman to be scripturally eligible for remarriage, ONE EVENT must have already occurred, and one more must occur: the husband must already have committed fornication, and she must now repudiate him if she wants to be eligible for remarriage.

Pat tells us that “she must be the one to get the divorce.”  This is subtle language, but we’ll not be fooled by it.  We ask: what divorce?  Pat has in mind the so-called “actual divorce,” the one which is first obtained at a court of law, regardless of who gets it for what!  No, she must get a divorce for fornication!              

Jesus, in what he said in Matt. 19:9, implies that the innocent spouse may repudiate a fornicator-mate and remarry without committing adultery.  What a “woman to be scripturally eligible for remarriage” needs is the cause of fornication, and then she may repudiate or dismiss the fornicator-mate herself!  She is the one who gets the divorce (for fornication), of course!  (What the husband might get, for whatever cause from a human court of law, has nothing to do with her repudiating him for fornication!)

But Pat won’t allow her to use her God-given permission unless she beats her fornicator-husband to the courthouse.  If he beats her to the courthouse and gets an unlawful divorce (which Pat admits is not approved “in the eyes of God”), then she can’t get the famous “the divorce,” that according to Pat’s concoction, is the “actual divorce”!

Where does Jesus imply, in his teaching in Matt. 19:9, that an innocent spouse has to get a particular divorce?  Who gave Pat the authority to concoct a particular “actual divorce,” and then force the innocent wife to get such a divorce if she wants to be eligible for remarriage?  Such arrogance, such presumption!

Pat doesn’t use good English grammar.  He speaks of “three events” occurring, but has only one: the husband committed fornication!  His second event is a person, and his third event is a purpose!  Specific persons and specific purposes are not events!


Jesus' statement that "whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery" condemns the remarriage of a woman who is put away by a husband, regardless of whether or not that husband has committed fornication, and regardless of when that fornication occurs, before or after the actual divorce.

Pat’s statement above ignores the context in which Jesus uttered those words.  Jesus is saying that whosoever marries a wife who is put away NOT FOR FORNICATION, but for just any reason, commits adultery.  The reason: he marries another man’s wife whom God has not released from her husband, since no fornication is in evidence in the husband’s putting-away.  Pat takes the statement out of context and makes an absolute out of it!  Herein is his fallacy.

And the same is true regardless of whether or not the put away woman tried to get a divorce. She either got a divorce for fornication or she did not; "trying" does not qualify her for remarriage, at least not according to Jesus' teaching.

There is nothing in Jesus’ statement about a man marrying a woman who “tried to get a divorce.” Pat must put his scenario into the one that Jesus treated, and then, taking Jesus’ words out of context, build him a case that he wants to bind on others.

But someone will say, that makes it a "race to the lawyer's office." In this particular situation, the answer is, yes it is a race to the lawyer's office (using their terminology).

Pat accepts the consequence of his doctrine.  We commend his honesty in the matter.  This consequence must be admitted by all who put the divine permission into the hands of godless judges.

Jesus teaches that not only is it important to have the grounds (fornication), but it is also important who gets the divorce. And that means that if both parties file for divorce, it is important who succeeds in getting the divorce first.

Here is the crux of this entire false doctrine.  While Jesus states the CAUSE of fornication (“except for fornication,” three words!) for repudiation and remarriage; Pat and others add to God’s word with their “also.” Not also who gets the divorce, but who gets it (just any divorce, the so-called “actual divorce” in the courts of men) FIRST!

Good brethren who for many years have preached against adding to God’s word are now doing just that!  Why?  To try to sustain an untenable doctrine.  Jesus gave the cause, but that is not enough for them; they must add their “race to the lawyer’s office”.

“Just a Race to the Lawyer's Office???” The title implies that APOLUO (put away, repudiate, divorce) inherently involves civil action (the courthouse, judges, lawyers).

Herein is a chief error of Pat’s advocacy:  equating APOLUO with civil divorce!  His argument is that whoever gets the civil divorce first controls everything that God has revealed on the matter of repudiation and remarriage.  This puts into the hands of uninspired, ungodly human lawyers and judges the control over God’s divine permission.

Good brethren, in their zeal to combat adultery, which is condoned by the so-called “West Coast doctrine on MDR” (that both the innocent and the fornicator are free to remarry), have gone to the extreme of forbidding remarriage to the innocent, faithful spouse who husband has committed fornication, if she ever becomes classified as a put-away woman.  They have bound what God has not bound.

They have zeal without knowledge (Rom. 10:2).  We commend their zeal, but abhor their binding mentality. It is as sinful to bind where God has not bound as to loose where God has not loosed.

Adultery must be condemned.  All must be exhorted to not commit adultery.  But, like the non-meat-eater of Rom. 14 and 1 Cor. 8 saw idolatry in all eating of meat sacrificed to idols, and therefore condemned the meat-eater for “idolatry,” so many brethren today see adultery in all cases of an unlawfully put-away wife who, when having the cause of fornication against her husband, repudiates him and remarries, and therefore they condemn her for “adultery.”

The non-meat-eater was to keep his scruple to himself.  The brother who cannot conscientiously repudiate and remarry, if he unlawfully has been divorced by a godless spouse who later commits fornication, is to keep his scruple to himself.  In such cases there will be continued fellowship, and respect for the scruples of others.  But when a scruple is bound on others, fellowship severs and souls will be lost because of their binding.

We call upon our erring brethren to desist in their disfellowshipping over their personal scruples.

Bill H. Reeves