Maxey - Thomas Debate
An Examination of a Proposition
Relating to Divorce and Remarriage

Tuesday, January 9, 2001

Comments by Al Maxey
In Denial of the Proposition

First, I would like to thank my brother in Christ, Ron Thomas, for his willingness to prayerfully consider this particular topic of discussion. It is obviously a very emotionally charged subject, and one which has the potential for creating dissension and division among the people of God. It is also a critical area of doctrine in which theological misunderstanding and abuse can result in disrupted lives and destroyed souls. Because it is so controversial, many have avoided deeper investigation into vital aspects of our Lord's teaching with respect to marriage, divorce and remarriage. I am encouraged by Ron's willingness to engage in this exchange, and pray that those who read our discussion will truly benefit from the study. I believe I speak for Ron when I say that we will strive to keep this discussion between us respectful and brotherly, as befits two Christian ministers of the gospel of Christ.

Before making a few comments on Ron's affirmation of the proposition, I will endeavor to express the basic reasons for my denial and my perspective on what Jesus is truly conveying in His teaching on divorce and remarriage. I will initially do so in brief, general terms. More detailed specifics can come later as Ron and I begin the logical, orderly process of examining the beliefs and perspectives of one another.

Like Ron, I firmly believe marriage to be a covenant between a man and woman and their God. God's intent has always been, in my view, "one man for one woman for life." In both the OT and NT writings we see the spokesmen of God attempting to direct the hearts and minds of the people back to the Creator's original design for marriage.

I also would emphasize the covenantal aspects of marital union. Some deny that marriage is a "covenant." In so doing they deny what is clearly a biblical concept. "The Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant" (Malachi 2:14). When divorces occur, one spouse has "broken faith" or "broken covenant" with his/her spouse. This breaking of faith, and destruction of one's covenant, is a vital concept discussed throughout Scripture, and one which needs to be kept in mind as the teaching of Jesus Christ is analyzed.

I further believe the Scriptures reveal to us that it was never the intent of our Creator for these covenants of marriage to be terminated, except by the death of one's spouse. Divorce was not a part of the plan of our God. Due to the hardness of men's hearts against one another, and the multiple abuses which were being perpetrated against one's spouse, God permitted or allowed divorce, but it grieved Him greatly. Our Lord God clearly declares, "I hate divorce!" (Malachi 2:16). I believe He feels no less aversion to it today.

The reality of life among fallen men and women on this planet, however, is that marriages DO fail. Whenever it happens we can safely say that one or both parties have failed, for whatever reason, to live up to their calling to achieve the IDEAL of our God for marriage. They have fallen short of the goal; they have missed the divine mark; and thus sin has occurred. I do not believe there is such a thing as a "sinless divorce." There may well be innocent parties in divorce, but in every fractured covenant of marriage someone must bear responsibility for the breakdown of that union. That person or persons is culpable. In His teaching on the subject, Jesus deals with this culpability, as will be noticed later in this exchange. This awareness is a key to truly understanding some of our Lord's statements.

Is divorce really divorce? Is marriage really marriage? These may seem like ridiculous questions, but they are central to the debate about to begin. Some teach that God does not actually recognize a divorce. Thus, while the "law of the land" may permit the termination of a marriage bond, the "Law of the Lord" regards the two as still united. This being so, God will naturally not regard any subsequent union as a legitimate "marriage," but rather regards the association as a "continuing in adultery." Others tend to be somewhat less restrictive and will declare some divorces and remarriages approved by God. Generally, this latter group will only regard as approved a divorce where one of the spouses committed fornication (porneia), and the only spouse, in this view, allowed to remarry is the innocent spouse. All other divorces and all other remarriages are forbidden, or so they declare.

This is the perspective of Ron Thomas, who has affirmed this proposition: "A married person who divorces his or her spouse for any reason other than fornication, and marries another, is a person who keeps on committing adultery." Ron will contend, I assume, that the second union of this guilty party is not actually a "marriage," but is instead a continuing adulterous affair with one other than a legitimate spouse. Therefore, he regards the divorce to be something other than a legitimate divorce, and that the guilty spouse and the put away woman are therefore still united in a covenant of marriage in the eyes of their God.

I deny this proposition. In the teaching of Jesus Christ He refers to the action taken by one spouse against another as "divorce." That is what HE calls it. The Greek words employed here by the Lord and His inspired writers are very forceful, and they describe in no uncertain terms the ultimate and complete severing, unbinding, loosing, setting free, and termination of that which was once joined. These words will be listed and examined much more closely in future exchanges with Ron if he denies the impact of these specific terms. It is also significant to note that when either party in a divorce enters into a new union, Jesus characterizes it as a marriage, and not as something less. The phrases "living in sin" and "living in adultery" are NEVER used anywhere in the Bible with reference to a remarriage. These expressions, though common in certain theological circles, are entirely man-made; nowhere do God, Jesus or the inspired writers ever employ them.

There are several terms, phrases and concepts which we will need to examine in some depth during the course of this discussion. I believe Ron and I share a very high view of God's intent for the marriage covenant. Thus, the nature of marriage is not really an issue between us. However, we may need to evaluate further the nature of divorce, especially if Ron believes that some divorces are not really divorces. We also, for the sake of clarity in our discussion, need to examine in some depth the meaning of porneia (fornication) and moicheia (adultery). What do these words convey to us? What did they convey to the original readers of the biblical documents? Are our applications today consistent with biblical meaning and usage? These are critical areas, and must not be lightly dismissed. Ron, in his affirmation of the proposition, has given a brief definition of each of these terms, but they both require a much more thorough analysis. I will attempt to provide that in subsequent discussions with my brother in Christ.

It is also imperative that we carefully examine our Lord's so-called "exception clause," which appears only in the gospel record of Matthew. Does this truly constitute the lone exception to the IDEAL of our God for marriage covenants? Or, is there some other explanation? This too we will examine in greater depth, as it is vital to our understanding of the teaching of Jesus Christ.

Ron believes that one who "unscripturally" divorces a spouse, and who subsequently joins himself to another, "keeps on committing adultery." This is one of the key differences between us. I deny this proposition, while Ron affirms it. To help resolve this difference in our perspectives we will need to carefully examine several key points, not the least of which is an analysis of the Present Indicative in Greek and whether or not it necessitates continuous action. Ron believes it does, whereas I do not. I will offer extensive analysis of this in an effort to demonstrate the error of his position. Ron has already made a few brief comments, and offered a few quotations, in defense of his view; I believe we need to go much deeper. We will also need to determine if moicheia always involves some illicit sexual action, or if it can at times refer to some action which is non-sexual in nature. This too is critical to a correct interpretation and application of the teaching of Jesus Christ.

In our exchange with one another we will confront each of these issues enumerated above in a logical and orderly sequence. At least, that is my goal. I am confident this rational process will result in a thorough analysis of the various pertinent aspects of our proposition, and that the readers, at the end of our debate, will have sufficient data to determine which, if either, of our positions is the more biblical.

The reader will notice that in this current statement I have offered no in-depth analysis or justification for any of my views. That was by design. This first offering was essentially for the purpose of stating my position with respect to the proposition, my basic differences with the teaching of Ron Thomas, and my hopes regarding the direction of this exchange. The depth of analysis will come in subsequent posts as we each challenge the views of the other, and seek to justify our own, from God's inspired Word.

I would, however, like to make just a couple of observations about Ron's affirmation post. First, let me commend Ron on his Christian tone and demeanor. I have been in communication with Ron for several months now, and I can testify that he is a Christian gentleman. Thus, I have high hopes this debate between us will be conducted with mutual respect. Though he and I differ on this issue, and perhaps on others as well, we do not differ when it comes to love and devotion to our Lord, and the need to honor and glorify Him in our dealings with one another before unbelievers and brethren alike.

In his post, Ron listed thirteen separate translations of Matthew 19:9, the primary passage from which our proposition is drawn. He then asks, "Al, are any of these versions incorrect in their translating of Matthew 19:9?" Although each version and translation is worded somewhat differently, I would not go so far as to declare any of them "fatally flawed." Each has done the best job they could, limited as they were by their purpose, philosophy of translation, and production guidelines, to provide a readable rendering of this statement by Jesus Christ. The widest variety of translation seems to be with respect to the word porneia --- one finds, for example, "fornication," "unchastity," "sexual sin," "immorality," "unfaithfulness," "whoredom," "lewdness," "illicit marriage," and even "adultery" just in the thirteen sources given by Ron. This makes it evident that there is little agreement among scholars and translators as to exactly what porneia should convey.

Ron states: "Each one of these translations has a so-called 'exceptive' clause." I agree. That same clause can also be found in Matthew 5:32. The challenge before us, however, is to determine our Lord's intent in this clause. Is it the lone exception to God's IDEAL for marriage, or is some other meaning intended? I take the latter view, whereas I believe Ron embraces the former. We need to examine this.

Brother Thomas closes his affirmation post with this statement: "Matthew 19:9 teaches that if one were to put away his wife and marry another, the person who put away his wife would be committing adultery while married to the second woman. If, on the other hand, he put his wife away because she was a fornicator (or guilty of committing fornication) and he married another woman, then he would not be committing adultery. However, the put away woman would be committing adultery if she remarried."

Under his earlier analysis of the phrase "shall put away his wife," Ron declares this "verb phrase .... speaks of one who has divorced his wife." He further identifies the form of the verb as being one which "expresses action or a state of being which is objectively possible." The word itself he identifies as signifying "to set free, to let go." Nevertheless, after this analysis, Ron contends that a person who "divorces" his wife for a cause other than her fornication, and "marries" another woman, is in a continuous adulterous relationship. This seemingly implies that the second union is not a marriage at all, but an adulterous affair with one other than one's spouse. This leaves me wondering what Ron means by the term "divorce."

Thus, I would like to suggest to Ron, for the sake of clarification, that our first exchange be a discussion of the term, or terms, which are used by the Lord to characterize "divorce." What are these words, what do they mean, and what does Jesus truly teach when He employs them? This leads us back to the question, which is central to this debate: Is a divorce really a divorce? Does God not recognize certain divorces? And, if the answer to that is Yes, then which divorces does He not recognize, and why? Are those people still married, even though they think they're divorced? Since Ron's "continual adultery" doctrine is based in part upon the view that in some cases divorce is not truly divorce (if I understand Ron's view correctly), we perhaps need to start here.

I look forward to your response, Ron, and to our continued discussion on this vital topic. May God richly bless you, brother, as we examine God's Word together in an effort to better understand His will for our lives.

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