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

Tuesday, March 6, 2001

Al Maxey Responds
To Various Comments by Ron

Thoughts On Romans 7

With regard to the teaching of Paul in the early part of Romans 7, Ron takes exception to my use of the word "association" when referring to the relationship of the woman in that passage with one other than her spouse. Ron wrote: "'Adultery' is 'associating' with one 'other than her spouse'? 'Adultery' is 'associating' 'whether sex is actually taking place or not'? And you've said to me, I have manipulated the meaning of the word?"

Ron, let's look at this passage a little more closely, since it contains some important teaching relevant to our debate.

Although the NIV uses the word "marries" here (as do several other translations), the original Greek text does NOT use the word "marries." An entirely different word is used. Several translations have picked up on this.

The apostle Paul was very familiar with the usual Greek word which conveyed the concept "to marry" --- gameo. Paul has used it repeatedly. In fact, 41% of the time this word is used in the NT writings, it is used by the apostle Paul. However, Paul does NOT use it here. In this entire passage in Romans 7, Paul never utilizes the common words signifying a covenant of marriage. Even in vs. 2 Paul does not use the usual expression for marriage, but speaks of the woman being "under a man" --- hupandros. The theological significance of this is brought out in my extensive treatment of this passage in Chapter Seven of my book Down, But Not Out which can be read at:

But, back to verse 3. The word employed by Paul in the phrase under question is ginomai, which means "to become." It seems to convey, when used in connection with relationships, the idea of becoming attached to or being with someone in a close personal association. For a married woman to associate that closely, perhaps even intimately, with another man was considered extremely inappropriate behavior. This may seem somewhat old-fashioned in light of the proliferation of very close personal, professional and social associations between members of the opposite sex in today's world, but it was a significant breach of the social norm of the ancient world. To transgress that norm could quickly cause a woman to be "called an adulteress," even though no sexual misbehavior may have taken place, and even though her intent may not have been to destroy her marriage.

The point Paul makes in this illustration is that the woman was party to a binding covenant, and thus must behave accordingly, and not do anything that might break that covenant. The formation of any kind of close association with another man, even though no sexual intimacies transpired between them, was viewed at that time as overstepping the parameters of one's covenant of marriage. Following the death of her husband, however, the woman was free to associate with whomever she desired, without incurring any subsequent stigmas or labels.

Paul is not viewing a second marriage occurring here. The woman is still considered in this passage to be married to her first husband. No divorce is even discussed. The woman, instead, is viewed as "associating with" or "consorting with" another man while still married to her husband. Such an action would constitute "adultery" in either sense of the word. If she was having sex with this other man, then certainly this would be "adultery." However, if she was just in a close association, at a time when such was deemed inappropriate, then this too could jeopardize her covenant of marriage. This too would be covered by the term "adultery" --- "breaking covenant; wedlock."

There is absolutely nothing in the context of this passage in Romans 7 which "demands" that a sexual "association" with this other man is exclusively in view. It certainly might be, but it could just as easily not be. Either way, however, the covenant with the husband would be jeopardized by such association with one other than her husband (whether that association be sexual or not), and thus either way she would be characterized as "adulterous." Ron will undoubtedly view this as being ONLY a sexual relationship with this other man, however neither the text nor the context demands such an interpretation. Rather, it is strictly an assumption.

Again, there is much more being taught by this passage in Romans 7:1-6. It is NOT a New Testament doctrinal statement on marriage, divorce and remarriage. In fact, it really has nothing to do with this subject. I would encourage the readers to carefully read my full analysis of this passage in the above referenced chapter of my book.

Legitimate, Approved, Accepted, Recognized

Ron wrote: "A real divorce, which does not have God's approval, and a subsequent remarriage, which also does not have God's approval, is legitimized by God? What do you mean, Al, when you use the word legitimize? Is a legitimate marriage going to be accepted by God?"

Ron is referring to my statement in which I said: "Anything less than the IDEAL I would never characterize as 'acceptable.' Thus, ALL divorces are lacking His 'approval.' God HATES divorce (Malachi 2:16). However, divorce happens. So do remarriages. I believe God recognizes both; thus, they are legitimate in the sense that a marriage has indeed ended, and a new marriage has indeed begun."

The dictionary defines legitimate this way: "sanctioned by law or custom; allowed." There are things which our God allows to occur in this world, but which nevertheless are not pleasing to Him. The breakdown of covenants of marriage is one. Divorce happens, and God has provided laws to deal with the many aspects of this tragic circumstance. Thus, they become allowed and even governed by laws and customs of man, and of God. By "legitimate" I merely sought to convey the reality of both divorce and remarriage. They actually occur, and they are recognized as real. A marriage has actually ended (divorce) and another has actually begun (remarriage). They are less than the IDEAL, but they are nonetheless REAL. Thus, they are legitimate in that sense.

Perhaps "legitimate" is not the best choice of a word here, Ron. Who knows?! Sometimes it is hard to find exactly the right word to convey one's thoughts. All I attempted to suggest by the term, however, was that divorce and remarriage are REAL, and that God recognizes them as REAL. It is a tragedy that covenants of marriage have been broken, but it happens, and God is aware of it. These breakdowns are characterized in Scripture with words clearly denoting that a union has come to an end. And subsequent unions are characterized as "marriage." These words tell us that God recognizes these as REAL marriages, just as He recognizes divorce as a REAL termination of a covenant. Yes, it is less than God's IDEAL for man, and it grieves Him, but they are REAL nevertheless.

All "missing of the mark" grieves our God, but these sins are still very real. Sin, however, can be repented of, and the sinner can be forgiven. Further, they can continue their journey in life in a restored relationship with their God. Divorce is NOT the "unforgivable sin." And remarriage itself, to my knowledge, is never called a sin in the Bible!! In fact, Paul makes it very clear that it is NOT a sin (1 Corinthians 7:28)!!

Ron also wrote: "Whether God is left out of the ceremony or not --- is He a part of that marriage? Does He have to approve of the marriage to be part of it? Your question to me is answered from Matthew 19:4-6."

As I mentioned in my last post, God is part of everything that transpires under the sun (or anywhere in the universe, seen or unseen). There is no place where God isn't, and there is no activity where He is not personally involved (except in those areas where He Himself has limited His own involvement ..... such as in sin or darkness, for example).

There is no question but what God is aware of every marriage, whether the marriage partners are aware of God or not!! Thus, God does not have to approve of a marriage to be a witness to it. I know lots of parents who did not approve of the person their son or daughter married, but they attended the wedding and witnessed the union. They recognized the marriage as a REAL one, even though they may have been less than thrilled with it. I'm sure God must feel the same with many marriages. He is present, He witnesses them, He recognizes them as real, but He is less than thrilled by the whole mess. The same with divorce.

You spoke of Matthew 19:4-6. I assume you are speaking specifically of the phrase "what God has joined together." It was God Himself who decreed marriage (as the text of this passage declares), thus when marriages occur it is because He Himself initially established this sacred union. It was God's plan that a man and woman leave their parents and join themselves to one another in a covenant of marriage. Thus, every time this happens it is in keeping with this decree of God, and in that sense He is the one joining them. This does not mean that one must verbally acknowledge this in each ceremony before the union is real .... or even believe it. It just IS. Thus, when two atheists marry, they are submitting to God's preordained decree .... whether they realize it or not; whether they acknowledge it or not. And their marriage IS recognized by God as a REAL marriage, even if they never utter His name or even acknowledge His existence. When they joined themselves together, it was in submission to His divine decree, and thus in that sense they were indeed joined together by God who was the Designer of this marital relationship into which they have entered; a relationship designed to be enjoyed by His creation.

Ron wrote: "Al, since God did not approve of the marriage (between Herod and Herodias), was the marriage 'legitimized' by God? With respect to that which God does not 'approve' --- is it sin?"

Was the marriage of Herod and Herodias REAL? Yes, it was. It was a real marriage. Mark 6:17 clearly declares that "he had married" this woman. God was displeased with this marriage. It was less than the IDEAL, for one thing. And it was also a transgression of His command not to take the wife of one's brother. "If a man marries his brother's wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be childless" (Leviticus 20:21). I think it is interesting to note a couple of important facts here:

  1. A man is said to MARRY this woman who was his brother's wife. This obviously does not please God (or the brother, for that matter). God does not "approve" of this behavior (just as He does not approve of any sinful or dishonorable behavior). However, God does recognize that it happens. A man can indeed MARRY one who was the wife of his brother. And yes, it is a real marriage.

  2. What is the consequence of this? Was the man told in the Law to break up this marriage? Was he told to cast this woman off? The consequence is declared to be this: the couple in this marriage would be childless!!! They were not told to break the covenant of marriage, they were merely informed that they had committed a sin!! NOT that they were continuing in sin by staying in the marriage, and certainly not with each individual sexual act experienced between them. The SIN was in marrying the brother's wife. That was a sin committed at a point in time, and only one time; it occurred when he lured this wife away and took her from his brother. The penalty imposed was they would be childless (a grave consequence to the Jewish way of thinking); the penalty was NOT that they had to divorce. That is never suggested.

Did John ever once tell Herod to divorce Herodias? Go check the text!! If he did there is no record of it. He said it was not "lawful" for Herod to have taken his brother's wife away from him .... and it wasn't!! But, the sin was in this dishonorable theft, NOT in each sex act performed in the subsequent marriage. John was telling Herod that he had sinned against his brother (and against God) by his act of taking away his brother's wife. It seems like God would have said something in the Law about divorcing this woman, if that had truly been the "fix" for the sin. But, God decreed no such thing. Neither did John. Neither did Jesus. Herod had sinned, and he needed to acknowledge that sin, rather than considering his actions as being of no real consequence to anyone. The penalty imposed by the Law of God was that this couple would be childless, NOT that they would be forced to divorce!!

Ron wrote: "Merely because divorces are real, and merely because remarriages are real, does not mean that God accepts them." Yes, divorces and remarriages are REAL. And YES, God accepts the reality of them. He does not always approve of such, but He does accept the reality of such! I think you have trouble in confusing accepting something as real with the concept of approving something as right. There IS a difference, Ron.

Deponent Verbs

Ron wrote: "...the verb moichatai (Matthew 19:9) is a middle or passive deponent..." Believe it or not, Ron, I had a missionary in Romania tell me the very same thing recently (but it was with respect to that word's usage in Matthew 5:32). He was just as wrong as you are in this assumption!!! To his credit, when I showed him the information I am about to show you, he wrote back and acknowledged his error, and then thanked me for helping him to see that he was wrong about this. It is my prayer you will do the same.

Ron has declared that moichatai is a "deponent" verb. Just for clarification, let me give the definition of such a verb for those who may not be familiar with Greek.

What this essentially is saying, Ron, is that when a verb has NO active form, then there are times when the middle and passive forms can be interpreted with the active force. Thus, to be a true deponent verb in Greek there must be no active form of that verb. My question to you, Ron, is this: Is that true with respect to the word for "adultery" used in Matthew 19:9 and Matthew 5:32? Does that word exist ONLY in the middle or passive verb forms?

The answer, of course, is NO!! This word most definitely HAS an active verb form, and that form IS used in Scripture. Moicheuo is the active form, and interestingly enough it appears (as an Aorist ACTIVE Indicative) just four verses earlier (Matt. 5:28). Thus, the form utilized in Matthew 19:9 and 5:32 is NOT deponent. The missionary in Europe to whom I presented this evidence acknowledged his error. I'm curious to see if YOU will.

The Present Indicative in Matthew 19:9

In my previous post I wrote: "What Ron seems to be unaware of, however, is the significance of the present tense when used in the indicative mood." I'm still convinced this is true. Ron, I do not argue with many of the conclusions that you have presented with regard to the present TENSE. However, I think you ARE overlooking the distinctions which occur when this PRESENT TENSE is used with the INDICATIVE MOOD. This was really the whole point Dr. Osburn was seeking to convey. He was not denying the force of the present TENSE, but rather emphasizing the significance in Greek of this tense when used with the indicative MOOD. I think you and Deaver BOTH have failed to perceive this!! Dr. Osburn wrote: "With regard to Matthew 19:9, the appeal to the present indicative to establish that moichatai must necessarily refer to continuity is not cogent based as it is upon imprecise understanding of Greek mood distinctions."

In response to this, you quoted Roy Deaver, who said, "Ascertaining whether or not moichatai means continuous action in Matt. 19:9 is not a matter of mood. Rather, it is a matter of the significance of the present tense. This very statement of Dr. Osburn shows a tragic misunderstanding of mood."

I would disagree with Roy Deaver completely. Indeed, his statement shows a glaring lack of understanding on his part of the impact of mood upon a Greek tense. At least to his credit he DID see that Dr. Osburn was pointing out that it was the indicative mood that impacted the present tense. I think it is unfortunate, however, that Deaver was incapable of understanding the significant impact mood has on tense ..... especially the indicative mood. As a "Greek scholar" (your assessment, not mine), he should know this!!

Dr. Ernest De Witt Burton, in his Moods and Tenses of New Testament Greek, points out that the "Present Indicative is used of action in progress in present time." Dr. Burton points out that this is very much distinct from action in progress in past time (the Greek imperfect) and action in progress in the future (the Greek future). The emphasis of the indicative mood on the present tense is to convey the reality of action in the NOW, not in the past or future. Ron, however, with his "continuing in adultery" theory would potentially transport the impact of the present indicative ("commits adultery") decades into the future in some circumstances. He has already stated that the "commits adultery" doesn't occur until the remarriage takes place ..... and if the man or woman doesn't remarry for 20 years, then "commits adultery" (which is action in the NOW) doesn't actually occur, in his theory, for 20 years!!! Thus, according to Ron, it is progressive action in the FUTURE as each FUTURE sex act with this new wife takes place. Thus, for Ron, the progressive action in the NOW is actually transposed to progressive action in the FUTURE. And, of course, all of this is assuming that the present indicative is looking at something which just keeps going and going and going and going (like the battery bunny on TV).

However, progressive action in the NOW is not as "open ended" as Ron might like to think (and indeed MUST think for his theory to work). True, it is an event viewed more as a line (---) than as a point (x), but this is still progressive action in the NOW, not necessarily something which extends forever throughout eternity just so a theory can be accommodated. The Perfect Tense (and certainly the Future Tense) might come closer to accomplishing what Ron would like to impose on the Present Tense .... but neither the Perfect Tense nor the Future Tense is used here.

Dr. Osburn simply sought to convey the truth that those who embrace the "continuing in adultery" theory are stretching this progression in the NOW a lot further than it was designed to stretch!!! Indeed, in some cases they are forgoing the NOW altogether in favor of FUTURE continuing action; even declaring that the progressive action in the NOW does not even begin for decades!!! That is ludicrous. It's as bad as defining "adultery" as "sex with one OTHER than one's wife," and then declaring boldly that "commits adultery" is sex with one's WIFE in this remarriage!!! The next thing you know Ron will imply that action in the NOW is actually action decades in the FUTURE!!! Oooops!! He HAS implied that!!!

Ron wrote: "I have already shown, by the writings of Dr. Roy Deaver (Greek scholar), that Dr. Osburn's article is to be seriously questioned." It is my studied opinion, Ron, that you have done no such thing! And I hardly consider Deaver to be a "Greek scholar." I realize you seem to have some kind of relationship with this man, so I will not declare what I really think of Roy Deaver, but let's just say I wouldn't form any biblical doctrines based on anything this man said or wrote. And I especially wouldn't take seriously anything that appeared in the publication Spiritual Sword. Whenever I come across one of those journals it goes in my "round file" right along with Contending For The Faith and other such writings of the ultra-conservative faction of the churches of Christ. I'm sorry, Ron, but I have seen the effects of such efforts by such journals (and their editors and writers) over the years, and frankly they have done more, in my opinion, to divide the ONE BODY than just about anything else. This is all I will say with regard to such individuals and their "scholarship," except to point out it does not surprise me in the least that Dr. Osburn has not wasted his time responding to Deaver. I wouldn't either, if I were Dr. Osburn.

Ron, I would simply point out that I believe you are still failing to perceive the significance of the impact of MOOD upon TENSE. You are arguing for your view primarily from the perspective that "commits adultery" is in the present tense. Dr. Osburn, and other reputable Greek scholars, would simply like you to be aware that this phrase also occurs in the indicative mood. And it does make a difference. I repeat my previous statement: "Ron has based his theory largely upon a misguided interpretation of the force and focus of the Present Indicative in Greek." I stand by that statement.

Ron wrote: "Al wrote: 'A man who casts his wife off in favor of a union with another woman (or for any other reason) is guilty of committing adultery.' This is correct because when the two are married and there is the consummation of the union there is adultery." Notice once again that "commits adultery" for Ron is when the remarriage occurs .... and more specifically, when SEX occurs in that remarriage. If we can ever get SEX out of Ron's mind, we might make some progress here!! Thus, according to Ron's theory, if the man does not remarry for 20 ... 30 ... 40 years, then "commits adultery" (progressive action in the NOW) doesn't even BEGIN for decades into the FUTURE. This is stretching the force of the present indicative far beyond anything the Greeks (or Jesus) ever had in mind.

I wrote previously, "Jesus is NOT condemning the second union per se, He is rather condemning the action of casting off a woman, breaking covenant with her, so as to pursue a selfish goal. It is this sinful casting off that is the adulterous action." The casting off process can certainly be viewed as a progressive action in the NOW. "That man is divorcing his wife!" This views the divorce as a process. "That man is divorcing his wife to marry another woman" or "...because he just doesn't want to be married." This is a process with a motive. The remarriage, or the desire for NO marriage, is really not a part of the divorce process at all (although it may have been the motivation for it). It is the process of "breaking wedlock" that is the "progression in the NOW" in view in "commits adultery," not some FUTURE action which may indeed have motivated the divorce process. Whatever one determines "commits adultery" to mean, it is action in the NOW, not action which may not even be thought of or engaged in for decades, if ever!

Ron wrote: "This is as false as it can be! The 'casting off' is NOT adulterous." Well, Ron, all I will say in response to that is: This is as false as it can be!! I suppose we'll have to leave it at that, and let the common sense of our readers prevail here!!

As an interesting sidebar, Ron, let me share with you the perspective of one of our readers on this issue of the Present Indicative. Sometimes the simple common sense of devoted disciples puts to shame the "reasoning" of the so-called "Greek scholars." Maybe this is one such case. This brother wrote me this just the other day:

Our reader is referring to Matthew 13:44 --- "The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field" (KJV). The verbs "goeth," "selleth" and "buyeth" are ALL Present Active Indicatives in the Greek. They all certainly have a process in view, but a process in the NOW. The going, selling and buying are all events which involve process and progression, but they do not envision a continual, never-ceasing activity. He goes, he sells, he buys; it happens in the here and now, not in the distant future, and certainly not over and over and over and over!! These verbs do not depict a process decades in the FUTURE.

Isn't it amazing how just a little common sense and basic logic can see through the nonsense to the essence of a text?!!!

In my previous post I wrote: "I believe my findings are completely consistent with the WHOLE of God's Word on the matter. And if the numerous positive comments of those who have read my book is any indication, a great many people are coming to a new awareness of biblical Truth in this matter, and are rejecting the harsh doctrines of traditionalism."

To this Ron replied: "Anyone can have 'itching' ears." That is true, Ron .... just as it is equally true that many have turned DEAF ears to Truth, being more enamored with their traditional teaching.

May God bless us all with open ears and open minds so that we might be receptive to God's Truth on this matter. And may we be honest and courageous enough to embrace change if our personal preferences & perceptions, and our traditional tenets, are incompatible with that revealed Truth.

May God richly bless you, brother!

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