Some Thoughts on
“Vow Only” Marriage

By Tim Haile

Though it is commendable for one to speak his convictions openly, public teaching is not without responsibility. Faith demands that one speak as the oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11). Honesty demands that one represent others accurately. It is sinful to lie about what others teach and do (Matt. 11:19; Acts 25:7,8). Lying is sinful (Rev. 21:8).

A brother recently spoke of some who teach “vow only marriage, mental divorce,” and a “second putting away.”  I asked the brother to provide documentation that such a position was actually being taught, but to date, he has failed to provide me proof of such teaching. I would like to help these misguided individuals, who are allegedly teaching these things, to see their error. I would like to plead with these folks to give up their unscriptural positions. I admit that I was unaware that people were teaching “vow only marriage.” I have heard some allege that there are those who teach “mental divorce” and a “second putting away.” However, like the allegations concerning “vow-only marriage,” I have not seen actual proof that such positions are actually being espoused by brethren. Through my Bible Banner website (, I have tried to oppose such false concepts in the possibility that such positions are as prevalent as some seem to believe. Here is a brief summation of my position and writings on these concepts:

  1. Mental Divorce” – The word “mental” means of the mind, intellectual, a mere thought process. When describing one’s action in putting away a mate, Jesus employed the Greek word apoluo, which is a verb of action. There is no way that one can acceptably put away his mate with a mere thought. More is involved. Putting-away is the repudiation and rejection of one’s mate. In putting away a mate one ceases to be a helper (Gen. 2:18), ceases to be a companion (Mal. 2:14), ceases to be a mate (Gen. 2:24), ceases to fulfill domestic duties (Tit. 2:4,5), ceases to be a provider (1 Tim. 5:8), ceases to fulfill marital love (Eph. 5:23-33) and ceases to fulfill sexual obligations (1 Cor. 7:4, 5). Putting-away involves the disavowal of one’s marriage vows. Just as there is declaration of intent in making vows, there is declaration of intent in breaking vows. Since Jesus specified no civil procedure for how an innocent spouse is to repudiate his fornicator-mate, I specify none. It is sinful to add one’s personal stipulations and requirements to the teaching of the word of Almighty God (Gal. 1:8, 9; Rev. 22:18, 19).

  2. Second Putting-Away” – To have a “second” of a particular thing is to have another of the same kind as the first. Too many times I have eaten that second piece of pie. The second piece of pie is the same kind of pie, only more of it. It is an additional piece of the same pie.

    It is sinful for one to put away his mate not for fornication, wait for that put-away mate to commit fornication, then put him away again (a second time) for fornication. The principle contained in Matthew 5:32 forbids such a practice. It assess blame to the one doing the unlawful putting away. By his unapproved action the covenant-breaker “causes” his put-away mate to commit adultery. Contrariwise, when an innocent spouse puts away (repudiates) a fornicator-mate who had already repudiated him, it is not a “second” putting-away: It is a subsequent putting-away. A “second putting-away” would be another of the same kind. However, the innocent spouse’s putting-away is for an entirely different purpose: it is for fornication. Whereas, the covenant-breaker’s putting-away was not for fornication. In fact, in many cases, the fornicator’s putting-away is done so that he can commit even more fornication! God approves when an innocent spouse puts away his mate for fornication. God does not approve when one puts away his mate not for fornication. These are two entirely different kinds of putting-away. They are by different people and they are for a different purpose. They are not the same thing.

“Vow Only Marriage”

Like I said earlier, I hope that the brother will document his claim that some are teaching “vow only” marriage. I had not heard of this position prior to reading his allegations that some are teaching such a view. I have no reason to disbelieve the accuser, but I would love to see quotations from some men who are teaching the view of “vow-only” marriage. In the absence of such quotes, and given the seriousness of such error, I feel compelled to answer the error preemptively.

The Bible does not teach that a marriage is formed on the basis of vows only. Matthew 19:4-6 (and Genesis 2:24) show that something else is required. Particularly, “Therefore shall a man LEAVE (emphasis mine, th)  his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” Jesus described action that might be taken between a male and a female that results in them being authorized to become one flesh (lawfully engage in sexual relations with each other). They must (1) “leave father and mother,” and (2) “cleave” to each other. “Cleaving” involves commitment. Vows and promises are certainly included in the agreement to leave father and mother and “cleave” to one another. However, that is only one part of the divine requirement for marriage. “Leaving” father and mother suggests an open notification and declaration of intent. The idea is that of the formation of a new home. Jesus cannot here be stipulating some physical act of departing from one’s parents, for this would mean that orphans cannot marry. It would also mean that men and women who had already left their parents before meeting their prospective mates would not be able to marry. In describing a couple’s “leaving” father and mother, Jesus described open declaration of intent. Interestingly, this action can be taken in any country and culture on the earth, and any time in man’s history. There is no country or culture where God's marriage law cannot be implemented. Different countries and cultures may require different things in addition to God's marriage requirements, but God's law can be followed anywhere.

Though Jesus nowhere specified any exact civil procedure for getting married, we do know from Matthew 19:4-6 that two things are involved:

1.      Leave Father and Mother

2.      Cleave to One Another

 Sadly, vital truths are often overlooked in the course of examining religious misconceptions. Though “vow-only” marriage is an unbiblical concept, yet marriage vows must be regarded as sacred expressions. Consider the following passages:

 Proverbs 2:17: Solomon spoke of a woman who, “forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God.”

 Ezekiel 16:8: Here we see God’s actions in espousing Judah. He said, “Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine.”

 Malachi 2:14: “Yet ye say, Wherefore?  Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.

Let no one think that marriage vows are small, insignificant matters. The above passages show clearly that the marriage covenant (agreement founded upon promises and vows) is of utmost importance in the mind of God. Any position on marriage that diminishes the binding nature of the marriage covenant is a heinous and damnable doctrine. 

 “Back-Seat-of-the-Car Marriage” (#1)

 Unable to answer an opponent’s position with clear, scriptural arguments, the errorist will often attempt to misrepresent his opponent and create prejudice against his position. I have seen this with those who accuse some of holding a position that allows a passion-enflamed, lust-filled, lascivious couple in the back seat of a car to merely exchange marriage vows with each other so that they can rightly engage in sexual activity. I know of no one who holds such a view. However, by tweaking this scenario just a little, the prejudicial nature of the argument is easily exposed.

 “Back-Seat-of-the-Car Marriage” (#2)

 What if I were marrying a couple in an outdoor wedding ceremony, and right before the vow portion of the ceremony it began to rain violently. Rather than continue in the pouring rain, I suggest to the couple that we take the witnesses to my Ford Excursion and finish the ceremony there? Would that be sinful? No, it would not. What if I suggested to the bride and groom that they sit in the back seat so that they will be able to sit together (this will expedite the ring ceremony). Would that be sinful? No, it would not. What if they exchanged vows and I pronounced them “husband and wife” while they were right there in the back seat of my Excursion? Would that be sinful? No, it would not. Now, what have I done in this “back-seat-of-the-car” wedding scenario? I have removed the prejudice. That is all. The errorist constructs the scenario in a way so as to suggest godlessness, sin and sensuality. He does this for effect. Dear reader, I know that you can see through his efforts. Let us dispense with the foolishness and get down to an honest examination of what the Scriptures say!

 I am still waiting to receive the quotations from the brother who made the allegation about the so-called “vow only” position of marriage. Until I receive those quotes, I hope that this preemptive material will help those who are studying the issue at this time.

 Tim Haile