Civil Divorce Procedure & Biblical Putting Away: Are They Synonymous?
Harry Osborne

February 07, 2003

Some are affirming that the innocent party, the one departing from a spouse for the cause of fornication already committed, must file the civil divorce before the guilty party and/or receive the judge's ruling in order for that innocent party to lawfully remarry. These brethren are making civil courts the final authority in determining whether an innocent party may lawfully remarry even though that innocent party makes clear the sundering of the marriage is for the cause of the fornication already committed. Though it would seem obvious that Matthew 19:9 gives the innocent party a right to remarry when a marriage is sundered for the cause of a guilty spouse's fornication, these brethren mandate as doctrine that the innocent party must initiate or counter-file in the civil litigation. Some of them also mandate that the innocent party must receive the judicial decree from the court.

Anyone who disagrees with these mandates is being called an advocate of "mental divorce." That term has been predominantly used in the past to denote an entirely different view. Twenty years ago, brethren termed it "mental divorce" when it was taught that, in a marriage admittedly sundered without the cause of fornication, one could years later engage in a "second" or "mental" putting away after the former spouse engaged in sexual relations with another person. This view was also commonly called "the waiting game" approach. This writer opposed that teaching then and still opposes the same today. When a marriage is sundered without the lawful cause of fornication already having occurred, neither spouse is free to marry another while the other spouse is living. The present controversy is not over "mental divorce" as that term has predominantly been used in the past.

Why has this present controversy arisen? Simply stated, this issue has arisen because some brethren have added to the word of God by placing mandates on the innocent party for legal action that person must take - actions not mandated by Scripture. Those affirming this doctrine assume that the biblical term "put away" is synonymous with the civil procedure of divorce. They make that assumption because they cannot prove it from Scripture. Any other procedure taken by the innocent party is called a "mental divorce," despite the actions involved, so as to create a barrier of prejudice against consideration of the real issue. The purpose of this article is to examine several reasons why this doctrine cannot be sustained from the word of God.

Jesus Mandated the CAUSE, Not the Procedure

Examine the text of Matthew 19 remembering that Jesus was answering a specific question asked by the Pharisees. The question was, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" (Matt. 19:3). Notice that the question related to the cause for lawful putting away, not the procedure for such. The word for "cause" is also rendered "accusation" or "charge" in the sense of a reason (Acts 13:28; 25:18). In Matthew 19, the Pharisees asked about the lawful cause for divorce. Jesus stated the lawful cause (19:9). The disciples then reacted using the same Greek word for cause, there rendered "case" (19:10). The Pharisees did not ask about the civil procedure associated with those sundering a marriage, nor did the disciples react to such.

Putting emphasis upon the procedure when the text plainly emphasizes the cause is a violation of hermeneutic principles. Fundamental misinterpretation occurs when one does not leave the emphasis of the text as it is given in Scripture. This is what some brethren have done in emphasizing the procedure (i.e. who takes the civil action in a divorce suit) over the cause for the marriage being sundered. When one rightly understands the emphasis placed in context upon the cause, one understands why the "waiting game" approach is wrong. One has no basis to sunder or depart from a marriage for the cause of fornication if no fornication is present at the time that marriage is sundered or left.

Why Not the Procedure of the Context?

If any civil procedure was specified as synonymous with the biblical term "put away," it would be the procedure of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 alluded to in Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:3-9 and Mark 10:2-12. That procedure consisted of a man writing out a bill of divorcement, giving it to his wife and sending her away. That procedure involved no courts or civil institutions, no judges, no filings, no legal record, no judgment or any of the civil procedures mandated by brethren now equating the civil procedure of divorce with the biblical term "put away." All of those elements are required by the procedure some brethren seek to bind, yet the Scripture speaks of none of them.

So why do these brethren seek to bind a procedure of which Jesus did not speak, rather than the one of which He did speak? Surely they know that they cannot bind the procedure of Deuteronomy 24. Why? Because Jesus abrogated that provision of Mosaic law. Any procedure included in Deuteronomy 24 was abolished when the law was annulled. However, if one accepts that the Pharisees' question was based on Deuteronomy 24 and it is admitted that Jesus nullified that law, why would one use the nullified procedure as the basis for requiring another civil procedure neither specified nor necessarily implied in the text? The only procedure found in this text is the procedure of Deuteronomy 24 which Jesus said is no longer binding. One searches the text in vain to require another procedure of a civil nature.

A Test Case

Jesus granted one the right to "put away" a spouse even though that person could not take action through the procedure present at that time. In the time of Jesus, the Jewish hearers were governed by the provisions of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and the rabbinical traditions concerning the procedure for sundering a marriage. Deuteronomy 24:1 required the husband to take the procedural action commanded in the text. That is what the text clearly shows. There was no provision in this law for the woman to take that action. The rabbinical traditions made the same provision. Note these comments on the Mishnah:

A man can divorce his wife but a woman cannot divorce her husband, except in the case of an orphan minor who had been given in marriage by her mother or brother(s) and she may on attaining puberty repudiate her marriage. A woman has nevertheless the right to seek the aid of the Court to induce or compel her husband to grant her a divorce under certain conditions (as for instance refusal by the husband to grant her connubial rights, his apostasy, if he is impotent, if he suffers from a loathsome disease, for his unfaithfulness, if he refuses to maintain her, for cruelty toward her).... The Court had no authority to issue a letter of divorce: this had to come from the husband. In the 11th Century C.E. it was decreed that no bill of divorce by a husband was to be issued without the wife's consent, thus restricting the ancient, absolute, unrestricted right of a man to divorce his wife at will (Mishnayoth, Blackman, III:391, "Introduction" to Gittin; see also S.E. Johnson, Gospel According to St. Mark, 169).

Josephus also recorded the actions allowed by Jewish law:

But some time afterward, when Salome happened to quarrel with Costobarus, she sent him a bill of divorce, and dissolved her marriage with him, though this was not according to the Jewish laws; for with us it is lawful for a husband to do so; but a wife if she departs from her husband, cannot of herself be married to another, unless her former husband put her away (Antiquities, XV.vii.10).

It was in a society with these procedures that Jesus raised the possibility that a wife may "put away her husband" (Mark 10:12). How could that be possible if putting away demands taking the procedural action of civil divorce? Saying that the Gospel of Mark was written to Gentiles where women could initiate the civil action does not answer the point. The text shows that Jesus stated this possibility to the people who surrounded Him who were governed by the provisions of Jewish law.

When one puts Mark's statement that a woman in that society could "put away" her husband with Matthew's account allowing remarriage if such were done for the cause of fornication, Jesus affirmed what some brethren are now denying - that an innocent spouse can put away a spouse guilty of fornication even when no civil procedure provides for such. A woman under the old law could not do what Jesus said she could do in Mark 10:12. A woman under the rabbinical traditions of that day could not do what Jesus said she could do in Mark 10:12. But Jesus said a woman in a society bound by such law could put away her husband even though no civil procedure was available to do so. Thus, according to the Scripture, one may "put away" a spouse without being the party who takes the civil action in a divorce proceeding or receives the judge's ruling.

Thus, those seeking to bind this human law find themselves at variance with the Scripture. Their theory would not allow the very thing Jesus allowed. If there was no other passage dealing with the matter, this would be enough to show that those binding such a doctrine are not speaking as the oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11). Their vocabulary says that one must take the action of the civil divorce procedure in order to "put away" a spouse. Jesus did not say that. Therefore, their speech is not the same as His speech.

Understanding the Terms

The Scriptures help us understand the meaning of the biblical term "put away" which is translated from the Greek word apoluo. In Matthew's Gospel, the word apoluo is used 11 times outside of texts related to sundering of a marriage. It is used of sending people away (14:15-22; 15:23). It denotes releasing a debt obligation (18:27). It describes the action of releasing a prisoner (27:15-26). If the word apoluo necessarily implies the initiating of a specified civil procedure and receiving a civil judgment, where is such found in these texts?

When we examine the use of apoluo in the entire New Testament, it is clear that the word does not imply a specified civil procedure, much less require such. It is repeatedly used of sending people away (Luke 8:38; 9:12; Acts 19:41). It is most commonly used of releasing prisoners, even without legal action (Acts 4:21-23). It is used of those released from seizure by a mob (Acts 17:9), of being forgiven (Luke 6:37) and of being healed (Luke 13:12). Paul was "sent" (apoluo) by the church at Antioch to preach the gospel and later sent by the Jerusalem elders to refute the claims of the Judiasers (Acts 13:3; 15:22-33). Did that make Paul a "put away" party? If apoluo requires taking civil actions according to specified procedure determined by civil law and receiving the judgment of the civil authorities, where do we find such in these texts?

It is obvious by examining the use of the word apoluo that it does not convey the concepts some have equated with it. If the advocates of this doctrine claim the word in Matthew 19 and related texts requires a special meaning of commencing a specified civil procedure and receiving the legal judgment, let it be proved from the context. Otherwise, we must conclude that the word neither implies nor demands that which some claim it requires. If one wants to impose that judgment on himself as a matter of conscience, he may do so. If he binds it as a test of fellowship, he has bound human law not bound by God and he has added to God's word (Mark 7:1-13; Col. 2:8; 2 John 9; Rev. 22:18-19).

Examining the Synonyms

The synonyms for the biblical term "put away" do not support the idea that it is the same as the civil procedure for divorce. Just as understanding the meaning of "fellowship" is aided by studying its synonyms in 2 Corinthians 6:14-16, so also we can better understand the meaning of "put away" (apoluo) by seeing other words used synonymously in Scripture. Two words are used as its synonyms:

    1. The Greek word choridzo is translated "put asunder" in Matthew 19:6 and Mark 10:9. It is the word Jesus chose as a synonym of the word "put away" in the Pharisees' question. Choridzo meant to sunder, disunite, divide or separate something. No lexicographer defines it as requiring a civil procedure for divorce. The word does not denote civil action taken against another person, but action against the relationship. Paul uses the same word to reiterate what the Lord commanded (1 Cor. 7:10-11, "depart"). However, there is a notable difference in the form of the word used in the Gospels and that used by Paul. Jesus used choridzo in the active voice, while Paul summarized the same teaching of Jesus by using choridzo in the passive voice. If Jesus in the Gospels was mandating who must take the civil action in a legal procedure, how could Paul legitimately use the passive voice as a parallel? The conclusion is obvious - Jesus was not requiring a procedure regarding who must take the civil action of divorce.
    2. The Greek word aphiemi is rendered "put away" (KJV) or "leave" (ASV) in 1 Corinthians 7:11 and is synonymous with the Greek words choridzo and apoluo. Not one use in over 140 New Testament uses of aphiemi infers a civil procedure of divorce.

Given the above facts, one must conclude that the word "put away" (apoluo) in Matthew 5, Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 16 cannot be used as synonymous with the civil procedure for divorce since the synonyms given by inspiration do not refer to a civil procedure.

Who Is Speaking As the Oracles of God?

Brethren seeking to bind a procedure of human invention as the basis upon which God makes His judgment in cases of divorce and remarriage have charged those who oppose their human additions with failing to speak as the Scripture. It is puzzling how these brethren can charge that one teaches without Scripture when one simply affirms what the text says, yet the brethren making such a charge claim to be affirming the text while they add requirements, terminology and concepts not found therein. Let us look at a few examples of their additions.

(1) According to Jesus in Matthew 19:6, the term "put asunder" is synonymous with "put away." This writer does not know of a passage that specifies the exact time at which that occurs. Can anyone provide the passage that so specifies? For instance, is there a passage that specifies that time as the point the judge makes his ruling in court or is it speaking generically of a process completed which we can recognize as we look at the given case? We find passages providing principles from which we can make application, but we find no exact procedure specified. Yet, some assume the action is completed with the judge's gavel at the end of the civil proceedings, assume the text says such, bind it as divine law, and accuse one of teaching error for opposing their assumptions and human edicts.
(2) Regarding the action which some mandate to be taken, is an innocent party "put away" merely because the guilty party initiated the court action first or got the ruling on that petition? Does the judge's ruling determine who put who away? Where is the passage to prove that which the advocates of this doctrine seek to bind? They charge one with teaching error if he does not bind the same action for putting away that they bind, so they must prove where that action is bound in Scripture. May the innocent party "put away" the guilty party by contesting the divorce initiated by the guilty, stating in open court the real cause of the marital breakup as the fornication of the guilty party, making such known to the church and letting others know that fornication was the true cause for the marriage being sundered? May the innocent party "put away" the guilty by other action showing the cause for which he/she departed from and renounced the guilty party for fornication? If they agree such actions could constitute putting away, they surrender their doctrine. If they say such actions do not constitute putting away, they have no Scripture upon which to stand. Each one of the above actions constitute action taken by the innocent to depart from, renounce, sunder the ties with and openly manifest the breach which exists because of the guilty party's fornication. Yet, advocates of this human doctrine seek to mandate one procedure as the only means to "put away" the guilty, despite the fact that Scripture nowhere binds that procedure as the sole action by which putting away is accomplished.
(3) Regarding the time frame for action which some mandate, is an innocent party "put away" merely because that one seeks to hold out hope for reconciliation with the guilty party until after the civil divorce is ruled final by the judge? Does the judge's docket schedule determine the time frame for biblical putting away? Where is the passage to prove such a doctrine? If the advocates of such a doctrine are to charge one with teaching error if he allows for a different time frame, they must prove where that time frame is bound in Scripture. May the innocent party "put away" the guilty party just after the judge's gavel has sounded while still in the courtroom by stating to all present that the real cause of the marital breakup as the fornication of the guilty party? May that innocent party "put away" the guilty fornicator by letting the church know the very next service that fornication was the true cause for the marriage being sundered? If those binding the civil divorce procedure as synonymous with biblical putting away agree such actions after the judge's ruling could constitute putting away, they surrender their doctrine. If they say such actions do not constitute putting away, they have no Scripture upon which to stand. They make God's judgments dependent upon the timing of human judges and dockets determined by man.
(4) After seeing an innocent party take all of the actions above, one could not logically conclude that an innocent party was "put away" due to the guilty party filing litigation at the courthouse. Yet, some brethren insist that, in such a case, the innocent party has been "put away" by the guilty fornicator. Where is the Scripture that speaks of a guilty fornicator putting away an innocent mate by such action? We read of an innocent mate putting away one guilty of fornication in Matthew 19:9. We read of one mate putting away another with no cause stated (Matt. 5:31-32; Mark 10:2-11; Luke 16:18). In the only case where fornication is said to be present, Jesus speaks only of the innocent putting away the guilty for the cause of fornication. When the cause for a marriage being sundered is fornication, a guilty fornicator cannot sunder a marital union with an innocent spouse for fornication of which the innocent is not guilty. But some have added the terminology of a guilty fornicator "putting away an innocent mate." Where do they find that in the text? How are they speaking as the oracles of God when they add such things? Their speech betrays them as their terminology is unknown to Scripture.
In each of the above cases, the advocates of this doctrine are adding to God's word by binding things neither stated nor implied in the text.

Since these brethren are claiming a procedure for putting away has been bound by God, they should give us the steps required in this pattern and the passages proving such. Perhaps they would like to make it in the form of a chart such as the one below:


The Pattern of Required Procedure for Putting Away

Step #1 ___________________________________ Passage: ________________

Step #2 ___________________________________ Passage: ________________

Step #3 ___________________________________ Passage: ________________

Step #4 ___________________________________ Passage: ________________

Step #5 ___________________________________ Passage: ________________

Step #6 ___________________________________ Passage: ________________

Step #7 ___________________________________ Passage: ________________

Let them add or omit as many blanks as necessary to reveal their pattern and show the authority for it. We can put down the steps necessary for an alien sinner to come to salvation and put a passage by every step. Why? Because the Scripture revealed that pattern. We can put down the steps necessary for an erring Christian to return to God and put a passage by each step. Why? Because that pattern is also from God. We shall see when these brethren attempt to fill in the chart whether their pattern is from heaven or from men.

If they refuse to answer even the initial question regarding the authority behind their pattern for putting away, they will not be putting themselves in good company (Matt. 21:25-27). Jesus gave answer to those who asked about His teaching until they proved themselves unworthy of it. When people turn down repeated attempts to discuss the issue and will not answer the very fundamental points about which they are questioned, they are not following the example of Jesus.

What Does the Bible Teach?

Every passage dealing with this subject must be changed by those binding the civil divorce procedure as synonymous with biblical putting away. When they see the term "put away," they must force a civil procedure into the term complete with judge, plaintiff, defendant, filings and rulings, despite the fact that no such action was present when Jesus spoke the words. Let us be content to leave the passages worded as God guided them to be written without imposing a meaning on the words that could not have been true when the passages were revealed.

Let us also be content to use the words "put away," "sunder" and "depart" as synonyms and leave them generic with regard to procedure just as the Scripture does. Advocates of the man-made doctrine will only use one of those terms ("put away") while they avoid the others ("sunder" and "depart"). The other terms used in Scripture do not fit their terminology attempting to insert a procedure whereby a plaintiff files in a civil divorce proceeding and receives a ruling of the judge. They know "sunder" and "depart" cannot mean such, so they avoid talking of those terms. Instead, they see the term "put away" and automatically assume it means "file the civil divorce action and receive the judge's ruling." It is like a Presbyterian seeing "baptism" and automatically assuming it means "sprinkling" even though the meaning of the word in the original language and its use in the context would preclude that erroneous assumption.

So what does the Bible teach regarding God's will for the putting away, sundering or departing from marriage? Let us look at the texts involved.

Matthew 5:31-32 - "It was said also, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery." No procedure is bound in this text. Why not leave it where Jesus left it rather than going beyond the doctrine stated by Christ?

Matthew 19:3-9 - "And there came unto him Pharisees, trying him, and saying, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said, Have ye not read, that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh? So that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses for your hardness of heart suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it hath not been so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery." No courts, lawyers, judges, filings, plaintiffs, defendants, civil proceedings or rulings are found in this text either. Why would we add to the words of Christ?

Mark 10:2-12 - "And there came unto him Pharisees, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? trying him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. But Jesus said unto them, For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of the creation, Male and female made he them. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh: so that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house the disciples asked him again of this matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her: and if she herself shall put away her husband, and marry another, she committeth adultery." As noted earlier, this passage provides a real problem for the doctrine invented by some brethren. Jesus spoke to people in that society of a woman putting away a husband though a woman in that society could not take any civil action for divorce against a husband. Couple this passage with the exception from Matthew 19:9 and we see Jesus affirming that an innocent party could put away a guilty party even though no civil procedure is available. That is exactly the opposite of the doctrine some brethren are now seeking to bind.

Luke 16:18 - "Every one that putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth one that is put away from a husband committeth adultery." You must assume Jesus meant to say, "He that marrieth anyone who has been filed upon in a civil divorce proceeding and has lost the case by the judge's ruling to a husband committeth adultery." Let us simply accept what Jesus said, without addition. Why the advocates of a man-made procedure to define biblical putting away believe this passage helps them is beyond understanding. It binds none of the added elements they seek to impose!

1 Corinthians 7:10-11 - "But unto the married I give charge, yea not I, but the Lord, That the wife depart not from her husband (but should she depart, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband); and that the husband leave not his wife." Let our brethren who seek to bind a procedure for putting away tell us where the elements of their doctrine can be found in this text. When the wife departed from her husband, did she file or did he? In whose favor did the judge rule? If she was "put away" by him and was thereby "unmarried," what would be involved in her being "reconciled to her husband"? If they had to marry, she is a "put away" party, by their terminology, who may marry despite their contention that Luke 16:18 is an absolute prohibition against such. If he is the "put away" party, you have the same problem with the roles reversed. The confusion in which the binders of a procedure find themselves trying to sort out this situation is due to their adding to God's word. If we merely speak as the oracles of God, we would not create such confusion.

Subjective Reasoning, Emotion & Adding to God's Word

When seeking truth on any subject, we do not determine God's will by subjective reasoning, man's feelings or human emotions. The advocates of the theory under review have charged that opposition to their teaching is based primarily on "emotional" appeals. This writer has made no such appeal in this article or any other on the subject. Subjective appeals from any viewpoint do not determine truth. It may, however, be noted that the same principle applies to the advocates of the theory under review. They appeal, not to the Scripture, but to their subjective reasoning and human law codes when they seek to define the biblical concept of putting away. As Isaiah said of old: "To the law and to the testimony! If they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning for them" (Isa. 8:20). Let us keep our focus on the word of God.

Some advocates of the reviewed theory have claimed their appeal is sustained by Romans 13 and other passages requiring submission to governmental law. There is no doubt that "the powers that be are ordained of God" (Rom. 13:1). This means the Christian must "be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake" (1 Pet. 2:13). Thus, Christians must abide by the law of the land regarding the legalities of marriage and divorce in every way not conflicting with God's law (cf. Acts 5:29). This writer has no dispute with one who speaks as the oracles of God in teaching every Christian to obey such laws.

However, when brethren mandate which party must either initiate or counter-file in a court of law, they have gone beyond the doctrine of Christ and beyond merely urging obedience to governmental law. An innocent party may abide by God's law and abide by civil law without taking action in a court of law in the divorce procedure. Under no-fault divorce laws, an innocent party would be in subjection to the law of the land by remaining silent in all court proceedings while allowing the guilty fornicator to file the civil divorce papers and pay all expenses involved. If the innocent party makes known to members of the church and others involved the true cause of the marriage being sundered outside of the court proceedings, there is no violation of Romans 13 or 1 Peter 2:13 in that action. Neither these passages nor any other Scriptures are violated by abiding within the terms and teaching of our Lord regarding biblical putting away and rejecting all additions to that teaching.

When one adds to the word of God in one area, that addition will bring other changes to God's law in time. In their zeal to bind human law as the determinant factor in biblical putting away, the advocates of this theory have exemplified this error. They have gone so far as to affirm, "God's will is for us to obey 'the higher powers' even though they may nullify our God-given 'liberties'" (Jeff Belknap, God-given "Rights" Nullified by Man's Wrongs, self-published article from web site of Jeff Belknap). If one accepts this addition to God's word, there is no end to be seen. Men could outlaw the right to marry as some governments have done for some groups. After all, marriage is a liberty, not a command of God (1 Cor. 7:2, 6-7). Yet, Scripture condemns edicts forbidding the exercise of the God-given liberty of marriage. Paul put it plainly by inspiration of the Spirit:

But the Spirit saith expressly, that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by them that believe and know the truth (1 Tim. 4:1-3).

If a government does the "forbidding to marry," does God require Christians to submit to the doctrine of demons? Obviously not! Those who would bind such a doctrine are condemned in clear and forceful terms. As the apologists of this doctrine urge submission to those nullifying any aspect of God's law, they unintentionally aid the devil's doctrine. May we avoid such a path and the extremes that are inherent in adding to God's law.


When we teach that we must not add to the law of God as the Pharisees did, we will not substitute Bible words with assumed equivalents or require procedures of human origin as though they were the command of God. The Misnah is full of such changes to divine law where men felt compelled to specify details and bind them on all, rather than abiding with the teaching of God. Such actions led to error then (Matt. 15:1-11; Mark 7:1-13). Parallel efforts in our time will produce the same unlawful fruit.

Let us leave it where Jesus left it -- the procedure is not specified, but the cause is specified. Where no cause of fornication exists for sundering a marriage, neither has the right to remarry. Where the scriptural cause of fornication does exist for sundering a marriage, the innocent spouse with a scriptural cause for departing from the marriage has the right to remarry.

Brethren, let us not go down a path of division over unspecified procedures added to God's word. Let us unite on principles plainly affirmed by Scripture and forebear with one another, allowing individual judgments regarding applications left generic in Scripture. If we fail to take that course, we will needlessly fracture as mandate after mandate is added by those making their conscience the rule for all.

Though some may be bent on division, there is another path. It is the Bible path of forbearance and open discussion in seeking to apply principles left generic by God. Some brethren who would urge the innocent party to file the civil action of divorce cannot agree with those subordinating God's law to human edicts. Brethren who agree that fornication must precede biblical putting away if the innocent has a right to remarry are being divided because they will not submit to binding an additional test of fellowship which is neither commanded, exemplified nor implied in Scripture.

Current tensions over this issue threaten to make us lose sight of the real battle we face and divert us in needless division. In the institutional division, we did not allow the liberals to divert us from the real issue of who (the church or benevolent societies) to the "how" of caring for needy saints. It was wise of brethren then not to allow such a diversion from the overall issue. In the same way, let us not allow some to divert us from the real issue, namely, that one may sunder a marriage and remarry only for the cause of fornication. Let us keep our focus there.

Those who promote unscriptural and adulterous marriages are continuing to advance their errors and are caricaturing us as factious fanatics. One who binds a procedure foreign to Scripture is aiding them in that endeavor, however unwittingly. They know the pressure is off of them as long as some focus exclusively on this area of discussion. They are using present alienation over this issue as an occasion to claim that we cannot agree on "divorce and remarriage" in general, thus, throwing the door wide open to total unity-in-diversity. Let none of us aid, even unwittingly, that evil agenda.

May God help us to seek unity in matters of truth, liberty in matters of opinion, and open discussion in an effort to reach that goal. Let the right hand of fellowship remain extended to those holding as matters of personal conscience views that may differ from our own. Let us always require of ourselves the action we must take to live in clear conscience without binding our opinions or procedures as tests of fellowship. If division comes over this issue, this writer will not initiate it. Dear brother or sister, do you intend to press for division over this matter? Can you honestly say it pleases God to bind the decrees of man as if they were the law of God? May we all with open Bibles and open hearts unite upon the simple teaching of our Lord without addition or subtraction.

Harry Osborne

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