Separation and Divorce for the Sake of Peace
1. If, in spite of all, the unbeliever chooses to leave and live separate, what should the believing mate do about it?
THERE are innumerable cases of where dedicated, baptized believers have obeyed the apostle Paul’s advice and have kept dwelling with unbelieving mates to have the joy of finally ‘saving’ the marriage mate. But what about a believer who uses God’s spirit to endure persecution and opposition in the effort to hold the marriage together, but whose unbelieving mate still finds it disagreeable and at length departs, either by living independently somewhere else or by divorce or legal separation? Paul answers: “But if the unbelieving one proceeds to depart, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not in servitude under such circumstances, but God has called you to peace.”—1 Cor. 7:15.
2. If a separation does occur, is there a Scriptural ground for divorce, to be followed by remarriage to another?
2 In the interest of his own Christian peace, the believer may let the unbelieving marriage mate depart and live elsewhere. The departed unbeliever may not remarry, any more than a departed Christian believer may do so: “But if she should actually depart, let her remain single or else make up again with her husband.” (1 Cor. 7:11) The abandoned believer has no Scripture grounds for procuring a legal divorce, that is, on the mere basis of abandonment or of incompatible difference of religion. Hence if he did get a divorce, he would not have the Scriptural freedom to relieve himself of unsatisfying legal singleness by remarrying. Jesus Christ himself says not, in the following words:
3. What did Jesus say on the matter, according to Matthew 19:3-9?
3 “Pharisees came up to him, intent on tempting him and saying: ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on every kind of grounds?’ In reply he said: ‘Did you not read that he who created them at the beginning made them male and female and said: “For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh”? So that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart.’ They said to him: Why, then, did Moses prescribe giving a certificate of dismissal and divorcing her?’ He said to them: ‘Moses, out of regard for your hardheartedness, made the concession to you of divorcing your wives, but such has not been the case from the beginning. I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except on the grounds of fornication and marries another commits adultery.’”—Matt. 19:3-9; also Deuteronomy 24:1-4.
4. Do Jesus’ words support the passing of a total antidivorce law, and what is the most effective way to reduce or prevent legal divorce cases?
4 Thus Jesus did not say that divorce should be forbidden by the law of the State on any ground, even on adultery. The religious priests of today who insist on such a law of no possible divorce want to bind innocent marriage mates to adulterous partners. By such a law they shield the adulterous mate and also encourage and promote marital unfaithfulness by allowing no relief for the innocent mate. If they permitted the innocent mate to divorce the adulterous one, then it would nullify the confessional forgiveness that the priests extend to the adulterous mate. In that case the adulterous mate would not be shielded by the priest’s indulgence or remission of sins toward the adulterous one who merely confesses but does not reform. The Scriptural way, the most effective way, to reduce or prevent legal divorce is by teaching the Holy Scriptures and its morality and keeping the Christian congregation free of adulterers, and not by a total antidivorce law. Such a law has not stopped adultery.
5. What divorce rests upon a Scriptural basis, and what privilege does it allow the innocent divorcee?
5 God’s law under his new covenant, as stated by Jesus in his above-quoted words, certainly allows for divorce on the proper basis. That one Scriptural or New Covenant basis is adultery. Divorce on that basis frees the innocent mate to remarry without thus committing adultery himself by remarriage. Divorce on any other basis does not free the legally separated ones to remarry without becoming guilty of adultery in God’s eyes and so becoming unworthy of being in His congregation under Christ. This is how Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount are to be understood. He referred to the divorce law recorded by the prophet Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1 and went on to say: “You heard that it was said, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ . . . Moreover it was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ However, I say to you that everyone divorcing his wife except on account of fornication makes her a subject for adultery, seeing that whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”—Matt. 5:27-32.
6. Do both Scriptural and unscriptural divorce make a woman a subject for adultery, or what difference, if any, is there?
6 If a dedicated Christian divorces his wife for adultery, how does he thereby make her a subject for adultery? She is already an adulteress by her own course and choice. It would not be divorce that drives her into adultery. However, if the husband divorces his wife for any other reasons, even reasons admitted by the law of the land, except for fornication or adultery, then he does expose her to adultery in the future. How so? Because according to God’s law the unadulterous wife is not disunited from her husband by such an unscriptural divorce. She is still his wife and is thus not free to remarry and have sex relations with another legal husband.
7. Which kind of divorcee, then, did Jesus mean when saying that whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery?
7 Hence when Jesus says, “seeing that whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery,” he does not mean any divorced woman at all. He means the woman legally divorced “except on account of fornication”; that is, an unadulterous divorced woman. This same principle holds true in the case of a husband whom his wife divorced although he had not acted adulterously. Any woman marrying him would lead him into adultery and herself become a fornicatrix.
8, 9. (a) Taken by themselves, what would the statements by Mark and by Luke mean for all divorcees? (b) In harmony with what are the statements by Mark and Luke to be explained, and why does adultery really break a marriage union and open the way for Scriptural divorce?
8 In Mark 10:11, 12 Jesus’ statement on divorce reads: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if ever a woman, after divorcing her husband, marries another, she commits adultery.” Luke 16:18 reads similarly: “Everyone that divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he that marries a woman divorced from a husband commits adultery.”
9 Those verses do not forbid divorce. But, taken by themselves, they would say that no divorcee would be entitled to remarry, except after the death of the divorced mate; and that to remarry during the lifetime of the divorced mate would mean to break God’s law against adultery. However, those two versions of Jesus’ words on divorce are to be explained in the light of the fuller statement recorded by the apostle Matthew, who shows that what Mark and Luke wrote on divorce is true if the ground for procuring the divorce is anything else but adultery on the part of the unfaithful mate. The single person who commits fornication with a harlotrous woman makes himself “one body” with a woman not his wife. Likewise the adulterer makes himself one body, not with his legal wife, but with the immoral person with whom he illegally lies. The adulterer thus sins against his own flesh. Yes, not only against his own personal flesh but also against his legal wife who till then has been “one flesh” with him. (1 Cor. 6:16, 17) For that reason, adultery really breaks the marriage union. This is why divorce on the basis of adultery formally and finally dissolves the legal marriage union. It frees the innocent partner to remarry with honor and with no stain on good morality during the lifetime of the guilty divorced mate.
10. What does divorcing an adulterous mate free that one for and also free the innocent mate for?
10 Divorcing an adulterous mate does not expose the divorced wrongdoer to adultery. Rather, the legal marriage, as long as it lasted, had failed to protect the unfaithful one from immorality. So the one marrying the adulterous divorcee merely marries an unclean person with an immoral record; and this remarriage does not cause the adulterous divorcee to become adulterous for the first time. If the innocent marriage mate divorces the adulterous mate, it frees the innocent one to remarry. The Scriptural divorcer is not divorcing merely to get rid of an adulterous mate no longer loved or physically safe to live with and have intercourse with. Such a divorcer is really freeing himself for remarriage, if that becomes advisable, due to the need for a faithful, dedicated life partner. By divorcing the adulterous mate, the divorcer simply lets the adulterous one have the kind of life desired, an immoral life.
JUDGMENT AGAINST IMMORAL ONES
11. Besides to legal marriage, to what more serious thing can adultery work disaster, especially since Jehovah has come to his temple?
11 The committing of adultery can work disaster to the legal marriage tie through a resultant divorce. But it certainly works disaster to one’s relationship to God, who has now come to his spiritual temple with his judicial Messenger Jesus Christ to do judging. He warns: “‘I will come near to you people for the judgment, and I will become a speedy witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, . . . while they have not feared me,’ Jehovah of armies has said.”—Mal. 3:1, 5; also Hebrews 13:4.
12. What is the judicial decision handed down concerning such an immoral person, and what is the only way by which the immoral one could be saved from everlasting destruction?
12 This divine judgment would be expressed in casting out, disfellowshiping the adulterous one from the congregation. To the congregation the judicial decision is handed down: “Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator . . . , not even eating with such a man. . . . ‘Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.’” (1 Cor. 5:11-13) Outside of God’s moral organization there is no everlasting life. Hence the dismissing of the fornicator and the adulterer could be the initial judgment act that points the way to everlasting destruction of the guilty one unless he shows unhypocritical heartfelt repentance toward God and reforms with a sincere resolve to keep morally clean and not contaminate God’s congregation and not bring reproach upon it. Then God would authorize his congregation to reinstate the repentant, reformed sinner, subjecting him to a period of probation until he puts himself back in the confidence of the clean congregation.
13, 14. (a) Where a mate commits adultery, how may the marriage bond be preserved and the couple keep living together? (b) By what action may the congregation keep the innocent, forgiving mate from having to live with a disfellowshiped mate? (c) Though the adulterous one may be forgiven, what must happen to any responsible office or services that he may hold in the congregation, and why?
13 If the adulterous marriage partner makes confession and shows an honest repentance and a resolve to be true and faithful to the marriage vow henceforth and then implores forgiveness, the innocent mate may choose to forgive and to resume marriage relations and not divorce the adulterous one. Under certain circumstances this not only preserves the marriage bond but also keeps the innocent mate from having to live, eat and sleep with a disfellowshiped mate; which would be a spiritually difficult situation. How?
14 Immorality affects the privileges one may enjoy in the congregation. For this reason the adulterous mate should also confess to the representatives of the congregation. These responsible servants of the congregation may take into consideration the repentance and sorrow of the guilty one and whether it was the first offense, and they could mercifully respect the innocent mate’s forgiveness of the repentant, converting mate; and in order to preserve the spiritual oneness of the married couple, they would not disfellowship the adulterous one. They would hold the innocent mate responsible to enforce a probation upon the forgiven sinner long enough to prove the recovery of the sinner to good morals, and they would check on the guilty one monthly for a full year to help in the reformation. However, if the sinner has been holding any responsible offices and service assignments in the congregation, then the congregation’s representative committee must arrange to divest the sinner of such offices or assignments. Why? Because, according to the Scriptural qualifications for holding a position of responsibility and special service in the congregation, the holder has to be exemplary, irreprehensible, clean in conscience, above reproach from the Devil’s agents. (1 Tim. 3:1-9; Titus 1:5-9) Hence, even though the converting adulterous one has been forgiven by the innocent marriage partner and by the congregation’s representative committee, he must be held unfit for office or special service.
15. In what situation would an innocent mate’s forgiveness not ward off disfellowshipment?
15 In many cases an innocent mate’s forgiveness may prove to be only limited in its power to relieve the adulterous one of all the serious consequences of the immorality. If the immoral mate committed adultery with a person outside the congregation such as a fornicator or a harlot, no congregation action would need to be taken toward the immoral outsider. There would be no need to ask forgiveness of the outside fornicator or harlot or to straighten out matters with such an immoral outsider. But if one carried on the sexual uncleanness inside one’s own congregation or another Christian congregation, then the innocent mate’s forgiveness may not be sufficient to ward off a disfellowshipment.
16. In case a member committed adultery inside his congregation or another congregation, why might the offender’s congregation have to disfellowship despite the innocent mate’s forgiveness?
16 Say the adultery was committed with the husband or with the wife of another couple in the same congregation or another congregation, or with a minor person under parental care or under a guardian. Then others who are seriously affected by the moral offense would come into the picture. The husband whose wife was violated, or the wife whose husband sinned with another’s wife, or the parents whose child was corrupted—do they forgive? Or do they want disciplinary action to be taken against the immoral married person? The innocent marriage mate may forgive for private personal reasons, but that mate cannot forgive for these others who have been hurt. Such personal, domestic forgiveness does not settle outside accounts for the guilty one. It cannot squash outside demands for disciplinary action by the congregation or demands for reparation through legal action outside in the courts of the land. The congregation may therefore decide to disfellowship despite the innocent mate’s personal forgiveness to the wrongdoer.
17, 18. (a) For example, how might a traveling man, with an official capacity, visit and corrupt a number of yielding women in such outside congregations, and also pray under a misimpression? (b) How did Jude describe such a man?
17 The congregation committee has to consider, also, the enormity of the offense. How widespread was it? Were other congregations concerned, and was the purity of their local organization defiled? Say, for example, a married man made regular trips to a number of congregations and in all these or in some of them he made improper advances to single women or to wives—wherever he could find some willing or yielding sister. He is making a general practice of immorality, and that within God’s holy congregation. He is defiling God’s organization in its several congregations. He is abusing what responsible office he may hold respecting those congregations. Under cover of official service he is slipping in merely to satisfy his perverted cravings. He cows weak, timid sisters into yielding to his unclean designs. Privately he prays to God to forgive him, but he makes no real effort to control himself and correct himself. So he keeps on sinning, under the misimpression that God’s loving-kindness through Christ will cancel the sins that he enjoys committing, without regard for the purity and name of God’s congregation.
18 Such a man proves himself to be one of those spoken of in Jude 4: “Certain men have slipped in who have long ago been appointed by the Scriptures to the judgment described below, ungodly men, turning the undeserved kindness of our God into an excuse for loose conduct and proving false to our only Owner and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
19. Why must such a man be disfellowshiped, even though his wife does forgive him and not divorce him?
19 In God’s time this responsible traveling man is found out and exposed. His wife forgives him when he admits his wrong. But is her forgiveness of any avail? No! It is no shield for him from deserved consequences. He cannot transform himself overnight. His forced admission of guilt and his expressing of regret does not mean any real reformation. He is a danger in the midst of the congregations of God’s dedicated people, a powerful bit of leaven that can ferment the whole mass. He is a deliberate, confirmed defiler of what is holy. He is untrustworthy, a risk, an unfit man to have among us. According to Bible principles he must be disfellowshiped. God’s congregation must be cleansed and safeguarded, even though his wife forgives and does not divorce him.
20. When an unmarried adult fornicator wishes to confess his sin, to whom shall he go, and how will he be dealt with by the congregation?
20 But what of the adult single person who commits fornication and has no mate to whom to confess his transgression? When sad and cut to the heart on account of his wrongdoing, can he go to someone to help him? The congregation service committee of spiritually qualified brothers serve the whole congregation. If a single person is overtaken in a violation of Jehovah’s law, he may confess his guilt to the committee. The committee must then decide what disciplinary action shall be followed in each case, whether disfellowshiping or probation. They have the responsibility for the welfare of the congregation and each member in it and must determine what is in the best interests of the congregation. If they find the single person has been overtaken in a hasty act, his first offense, and his attitude shows true sorrow and repentance, they are within bounds of their duties before Jehovah to extend mercy, just as they can in the case of a married transgressor, and to set a period of probation during which the offender would report to them regularly on his conduct and efforts at reformation. If he were a servant, of course, he would have to resign his office as one no longer irreprehensible.
PURSUIT OF PEACE BY THE MARRIED
21. (a) During the 1958-1959 service year how many were disfellowshiped from the New World society? How many were reinstated? How many remained disfellowshiped? (b) Is the smallness of the percentage of disfellowshiped ones to be ignored?
21 During the service year of 1958-1959 there were 6,552 individuals disfellowshiped by the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses for various reasons. Many of these were cases of immorality, either fornication or adultery. Where it became proper and timely, mercy was displayed, and there were 1,597 of all disfellowshiped during past years reinstated during the 1958-1959 service year upon proof of godly sorrow, repentance and reformation. These were put on probation for a reasonable period of time, before being granted again the general privileges of all in the congregation. So, at the end of the said service year there were, out of all those who had been disfellowshiped during recent years, a total of 25,143 still cut off from the congregation of Jehovah’s people. While it is too bad that any should make it necessary to disfellowship them, we are comforted to know that, out of all the hundreds of thousands who are reporting preaching activities throughout the earth, only .81 percent were disfellowshiped. That is only eight-tenths of one percent. Still even that low figure is a warning to each one of us.
22. To what have married Christians been called, and how should they guard this?
22 Disfellowshiping removes a person from peaceful relations with Jehovah God. Married Christians should avoid with dread such a wrecking of peace with God. God has called married Christians to peace. (1 Cor. 7:15) In their married state let them jealously guard their peace with him. That means guarding, as far as possible, their domestic peace as between husband and wife. To this end let them lead lives faithful to God and his Christ and faithful to their marriage mates with whom they are “one flesh.”
23. (a) Why, especially now, is there no room for wrong marriage conduct any more than back in Eden? (b) What, then, should married Christians do to vindicate the Provider of marriage for man and woman?
23 On the other side of the universal war of Armageddon, now not so far away, there lies the restored earthly Paradise. But even at the present time since the year 1919 the great Planter and Cultivator Jehovah God has brought his dedicated witnesses on earth into a spiritual Paradise. There they enjoy peace, joy, and all the other fruitage of the holy spirit, and they bring forth all the fruitage of good works in preaching the good news of the Kingdom world-wide. In this spiritual Paradise, just as originally in the garden of Eden when occupied by the perfect Adam and Eve, there is no room for polygamy or improper marriage conduct or disregard for the theocratic relationship of man and wife. May married believers appreciate the situation and take the opportunity to work for the salvation of the beloved marriage mate. By their marriage conduct may they honor God. Great will be their reward. Their marriage will serve his purpose and play its part in vindicating him for lovingly providing this dignified, honorable peaceful union of husband and wife.