My purpose is to use God’s word to evaluate the doctrine that a man or woman can object to his or her spouse’s efforts to put him or her away for reasons other than fornication, take those objections to the church, wait until his or her spouse commits fornication, and then put that spouse away with God’s approval. This analysis is conducted with the utmost love for those who teach that doctrine and for the Lord who gave us His word to help us make the decisions that please Him.
Jesus said, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mt. 19:6 ASV, KJV). The Greek word translated “put asunder” is choridzo. The NKJV translates this word “separate.” The definition according to Strong’s Bible Dictionary is, “to place space between, i.e., part; depart, put asunder, separate.” Vine defines his word as “separate, divide.” Thus, God does not want man separating, dividing, or placing anything between the man and woman He has joined together in marriage (Mt. 19:4, 5).
Jesus is commanding us to avoid such separating or dividing. Please note that God does not say that it is impossible for man to put asunder what He has joined together. In fact, when Jesus said, “…let not man put asunder,” He implied that man can separate, divide, or place something between what God has joined together if man exercises his freedom of will to make that choice. If it were impossible for man to do this, it would have been unnecessary for Jesus to make this statement!
In Mt. 19:9, Jesus talked about the man who chooses to “put away” (KJV, ASV) his wife. Our Savior plainly and clearly said that if the man puts his wife away for any reason other than sexual immorality and then marries another woman, he commits adultery. By such a putting away, this man has put asunder (separated, divided) what God had joined together. Just as plainly and clearly, the Lord said that whoever marries the woman who was put away commits adultery. Jesus could have qualified that statement by providing for some unusual circumstances. In fact, if He were going to address such unusual circumstances, there would be no better place than this verse. That is true because He described a situation where a man put away his wife, apparently unjustly, and certainly put her in a horrible position spiritually and probably economically and emotionally.
For example, Jesus could have said, “And whoever marries her who is put away commits adultery UNLESS she resisted the putting away, UNLESS she brought her objections to the church, UNLESS she waited until her husband committed sexual immorality, and UNLESS she then put him away for fornication.” Jesus could have qualified His divine statement in that or other ways, but He didn’t do so. We cannot find such qualifying statements or conditions in this verse. Furthermore, I could not find them in any other passage of Scripture. The only way we can come up with those statements or conditions is by adding to what Jesus said in this verse. However, we know that God absolutely forbids us to add to or take away from His word and He tells us that the consequence of doing so is eternal condemnation. That is the primary reason I am so concerned about this doctrine. It is my firm belief that it is an addition to God’s word that has horrible eternal consequences for those who teach it and for those who obey it.
When we accept what Jesus said in Mt. 19:6-9 literally and without addition or subtraction, it is clear that when a spouse puts away their spouse for reasons other than fornication, they have put asunder what God has joined together. The tragic result is that neither spouse can remarry without engaging in adultery.
We might object that such an understanding of this verse is unfair or too hard. That is the kind of reaction that the disciples had when they heard Jesus speak these words originally (Matt. 19:10). However, the Lord did not change or soften His hard teaching in the slightest way. In fact, our blessed Savior made it clear that, for the kingdom of Heaven’s sake, some would deny themselves of the physical intimacies only allowed in unions approved by God (19:11,12). That is certainly a demanding teaching! However, it is only one of many such “hard sayings” that the Lord made.
From my perspective, the doctrine mentioned in the first paragraph certainly does not advocate the best approach to the terrible dilemma caused by a spouse who puts away his spouse for reasons other than fornication. Life is too short and eternity is too long to take chances like this when precious souls are at stake! Surely all would agree that the safe approach is to advise any involved in such situations to remain unmarried or be reconciled to their spouse. To my knowledge, this would not contradict any passage of Scripture. In fact, it is exactly what the inspired apostle Paul said should be done in a case where there has been a separation or departure for reasons other than fornication (1 Cor. 7:10, 11).