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Written Debate:  "Biblical Putting Away"

Second Affirmative
Terence Sheridan


In taking up my second affirmative, I wish to clarify something at the outset: I do not believe it is necessary for someone to file first in court in order to put away his spouse. Again, there must be compliance with the governing laws, etc. What kind of compliance? Full compliance. If the act of filing papers at a court house does not, per se, constitute full compliance, then it cannot be considered a necessary element in putting away a spouse. Someone can file papers and halfway through the process, decide not to divorce his spouse. A putting away occurs only when the spouse's intent is fully realized and civil government has officially recognized that intent. Therefore, it is inaccurate to say that I believe in "race to the courthouse."

At any rate, I want our readers to note something that brother Osborne has said: "Neither is this discussion about the need to comply with civil law in divorce. A civil divorce must be obtained when a marriage is sundered and the two people depart from each other." What that in mind, let's revisit the elements I said were necessary in order to put away a spouse:

1) One must renounce the marriage bond. This is self-evident or else the person would not be the one doing the putting away.

Brother Osborne voiced no objection to #1. That is understandable. Putting away a spouse is a deliberate and willful act. Common sense demands no less.

2) One must comply with the "law of the land." He must obey civil government as Romans 13 clearly teaches.

Brother Osborne apparently has no objection to this either. How is this? Because he said, "a civil divorce must be obtained." He agrees with me about what he calls the "need to comply with civil law in divorce." How could brother Osborne say otherwise? To say otherwise would mean violating the law of the land and thus violating Romans 13. To say otherwise would mean throwing open the floodgates of confusion in deciding who was married or who was divorced. Indeed, nothing less than full compliance to the law is required in the matter of marriage and divorce. Why? Because we cannot disobey the law of land with respect to "God-given rights" but only with respect to God-given responsibilities (Acts 4:18-20; Acts 5:29).

3) The governing authorities and thus the community must bear testimony to a marriage no longer functioning (i.e., a divorce). Number 3 is a logical extension of Number 2, since if a divorce is not recognized by the state, then the requirements of the state apparently have not been satisfied.

Surely brother Osborne cannot object to this. If a divorce is not recognized by a state and yet a husband and wife proceed as if it is, how can they say they submitted to the law of the land? They would have failed to secure not only #3, but #2 as well!

In all of this, one would think that brother Osborne has conceded the debate. So why does he find fault with my position? The problem, I think, lies with the case of an unfaithful spouse putting away an innocent spouse. It seems brother Osborne does not want to acknowledge that this could happen, or at the very least, that the innocent spouse could be the one who is "put away." I contend that a fornicating spouse could comply with all three steps that I mentioned and thus put away his innocent spouse. That means brother Osborne is forced to choose one of the following positions:

    a) Disavow the need for complying with civil law.

    b) Disavow the idea that the "put-away" can't put away (and thus uphold those who teach the classic "mental divorce" position).

    c) Disavow the idea that an innocent spouse could remarry in spite of being put away by the guilty party.

As it is, I believe that brother Osborne's position demands that a fourth condition be added to the three I mentioned for putting away a spouse. He would need to find scriptural support for the idea that an unscriptural putting away only counts when the perpetrator is innocent of fornication. Otherwise, guilty fornicator or not, one who unscripturally puts away his spouse, still puts her away.

Brother Osborne may talk about there being no set procedure for how an innocent puts away a fornicating spouse, but that point is moot and not germane to the issue at hand. If brother Osborne believes that the "put-away" can't put away, then he needs to show how some innocent spouses are immune to being "put away" even other innocent ones are not. Where are the Scriptures for the fine distinctions that brother Osborne is forced to make?

Brother Osborne claims that I have not produced any Scripture to support my views. However, I have made constant reference to Romans 13. The Bible teaches by necessary inference as well as by explicit command. So even though there is no explicit "civil procedure, no filing, no judicial proceeding, no court or civil institution, no judge, no legal record, no judgement," etc. these are nonetheless implied by Romans 13. How could it be otherwise? Are we at liberty to stick our tongues out at the powers ordained of God?

Brother Osborne says the language of Matthew 19 focuses on cause, not procedure. The point is moot. When you tell someone that if they are going to divorce "for fornication" (cause), that they need to do it before the marriage is sundered, is that not specifying a procedure? When you tell someone that they cannot play the waiting game, aren't you specifying a procedure, even though the cause ("for fornication") is established? When one says two guilty parties cannot divorce each other "for fornication" (cause), aren't you specifying a procedure? When you say that one must be innocent in a divorce "for fornication" (cause), aren't you specifying a procedure?

With respect to the practice of divorce under the Old Testament, brother Osborne writes:

    If any civil procedure is specified as synonymous with biblical putting away, why is it not the procedure of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 alluded to in Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:3-9 and Mark 10:2-12? That procedure consisted of a man writing out a bill of divorcement, giving it to his wife and sending her away. But Terence does not seek to bind that procedure. Why? Could it be that he understands Jesus abrogated that provision of Mosaic law? Any procedure included in Deuteronomy 24 was abolished when the law was annulled. (Osborne's First Negative)

It seems to me that brother Osborne's argument rests on an equivocation between civil law and divine law. If we assume Jesus abolished parts of divine law while he was alive, are we then to assume that the Jews were free of civil law? If we don't assume this, then I fail to see the merit of brother Osborne's point. If the Jews as a physical nation didn't use Deuteronomy 24:1-4, they most likely used some other procedure for validating divorces. I am not binding a specific civil procedure. I am simply saying one must abide by the procedures in place in one's respective society (Romans 13).

Brother Osborne also brings up the case of women living under Jewish divorce law. How does this prove his case? If the law of the land forbids women from divorcing their husbands, then so what? What about saints who live in lands where divorce is forbidden altogether? Do we just tell those folks to defy their governments? Where is the Scripture for that practice? Moreover, citing Mark 10:12 does not help brother Osborne. It is obvious that Jesus had in mind an unscriptural putting away as far as this verse is concerned. Jesus calls the woman's actions "adultery." So how does this verse furnish approval for remarriage of one put away by a guilty fornicator?

Brother Osborne discusses the meaning of three words for divorce: apoluo, choridzo, and aphiemi. He avers that these terms do not inhere in their meaning the idea of a civil procedure. I agree with that. My case does not rest upon finding otherwise. Again, it rests upon necessary inference from Romans 13. As far the above terms are concerned, there is something else they do not inhere in their meaning: the guilt or innocence of the one doing the putting away. I said as much in my first affirmative. What is brother Osborne's response to this?

In closing, I again reiterate that if one is going to put away his spouse, he must follow the law of land. He cannot consider the putting away to be valid and complete until there is full compliance with civil law. Moreover, Jesus recognized that some would be successful in putting away their spouse for unscriptural reasons. We can't pretend to the contrary. We also can't pretend that innocent spouses are unable to be put away by guilty fornicators. They can be put away. If a person believes that a "put-away" spouse does not have the authority to put away "for fornication," then he needs to be consistent in the application of this belief. That means innocent spouses put away by guilty fornicators cannot remarry. Nothing that brother Osborne has thus far presented in this debate proves otherwise.

Again, I thank brothers Osborne and Cox for making this debate possible. The issue at hand has caused some alienation among several preachers. My plea, therefore, is that we unite on what both Scripture and sound logic suggest. When we follow after speculation and human opinion, we are begging for widespread division among the Lord's people.

First Affirmative: Terence Sheridan; First Negative: Harry Osborne
Second Affirmative: Terence Sheridan; Second Negative: Harry Osborne

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