Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

Index by Subject

Mental Divorce

Let None Deal Treacherously
An examination of God’s Law (and the error of men) on the subject of Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage
(Article 6 in Series)

To define the “mental divorce” position, we refer to both formal propositions, and a common scenario. First, the proposition, which some who advocate the position have signed:

The scriptures teach that the innocent person (free of fornication) who has been put away without God’s or his/her approval and against whom adultery has been committed may remarry.

Next, the scenario, which establishes the contention in plain language:

When Jack puts away Jill for a reason other than fornication, though he obtains a civil divorce, they are not really divorced. It is called divorce only “accomodatively”. If Jack then remarries another woman, he is guilty of adultery. So, he can now be mentally put away by Jill. This is the real divorce. Now, Jill is free to remarry.

Both the above proposition and the scenario is used by Donnie Rader in his book, Divorce and Remarriage: What Does the Text Say, page 74. Rader states, “Actually this is an effort by some to justify remarriage following an unlawful divorce.”
Rader’s assessment of the position is accurate, and the mental divorce position is not defensible from scripture.

The scriptures indicate that though such divorces are not acceptable to God, nor the remarriages that follow, they do indeed exist. In other words, when Jack divorces Jill, an actual divorce has really occurred. In Matthew 19:9, when Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife, … and marries another, commits adultery”, there is no indication that the divorce is not truly a divorce. It is, but it is not pleasing to God.

In Romans 7:3, after Paul notes that a woman is bound to her husband for as long as he lives, he writes, “If, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress.” Again you will note that while the marriage is not accepted by God, (the woman is bound to her first husband), the marriage is nevertheless real.

Confusion on “Marriage” and the “Bond”

The problem revolves around a misunderstanding of the difference between divorce and marriage, and the bond which is referred to in Romans 7:2, “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband.” Though God recognizes that she has married another, He has not released her from the bond of her first husband. Thus, though married, she is guilty of adultery. This is the proper Bible usage of the terms.

Note also Mark 6:17-18, which refers to John the Baptist’s condemnation of Herod’s marriage to Herodias…

“For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. For John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

Though God did not accept the marriage of Herod to Herodias, (“it is not lawful for you to have [her]), he nevertheless recognized the fact of the marriage, (“for he had married her”). Thus, Herodias was “bound” to Philip, yet married to Herod. There is a difference between marriage and the bond.

Thus, if two individuals divorce and remarry, the bond is not broken. They do not have the right to their new spouses, as they are still bound by God to one another. This is the clear import of 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, “Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.” For those who have divorced there are only two possibilities, celibacy or reconciliation. The mental divorce advocates champion a third position, the “waiting game”, which is unsubstantiated from scripture. That is, if I divorce without cause, I can wait for my former spouse to remarry, divorce her mentally, and then remarry.

Respecting Silence

There is no authority in scripture for one who is put away to remarry. Matthew 19:9 allows only for the party innocent of fornication to be released from the bond. Of the put away person, regardless of whether or not they are guilty of fornication, the verse indicates that remarriage brings about adultery: “Whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

It is dangerous to seek “logic” and “common sense” as an adjunct to what the scriptures teach. Rather than making deductions that seem reasonable, but are not necessarily derived from scripture, we should be willing to willing to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent. As there is nothing said in scripture of the put away person remarrying, we must not advocate it in our teaching and practice. This position, as the others mentioned previously, all do violence to the basic principle of God’s law on marriage, one man, one woman, for a lifetime. May we all respect God’s word on the matter.