Questions From Readers
● If, after a legal divorce had been obtained, a person learned that his or her former mate had been guilty of adultery or other gross sexual immorality before the divorce, would that give Scriptural validity to the legal divorce? Also, would the forgiveness of a single act of adultery rule out obtaining a divorce on Scriptural grounds if it later came to light that numerous immoral acts were involved?—Sweden.
There are times when knowledge about a divorced mate’s adultery or his practice of other gross sexual immorality before the divorce would give validity to a divorce that has already been obtained. Also, forgiveness for one case of adultery does not necessarily mean that previous unrevealed defilements of the marriage bed are likewise forgiven.
According to the Scriptures, adultery or other gross sexual immorality does not automatically sever the marriage bond, but it does give the innocent mate a valid ground for doing so. (Matt. 5:32; 19:9) On the other hand, in the sight of God, a divorce obtained when there is no Scriptural ground for it does not free either mate for remarriage. Such a divorce, from a Scriptural standpoint, is similar to a legal separation.
The apostle Paul’s counsel to married persons is: “A wife should not depart from her husband; but if she should actually depart, let her remain unmarried or else make up again with her husband; and a husband should not leave his wife.”—1 Cor. 7:10, 11.
Nonetheless, though very rare among true Christians, a separation may occur and may be legalized by a divorce action on grounds other than “fornication.” A Christian finding himself or herself in this position may later learn of predivorce adultery on the part of the divorced mate. Such a one now is faced with a decision as to whether to use this as a basis for establishing with the congregation his or her Scriptural freedom to remarry. If, after having established with the congregation’s judicial committee his or her being Scripturally free from the mate, such a one decides to remarry, no charge of adultery would be brought against this one.
The innocent mate may, however, decide not to use this as a basis for establishing his or her Scriptural freedom to remarry. Perhaps the adultery or gross sexual immorality was engaged in by the mate many years ago. The innocent one may have lived for many years with the other mate in the marriage arrangement after the immoral act (though unknown at the time) and before the separation. Therefore, even though now divorced, the innocent party may want to forgive the wrong that occurred in the past, believing that this is what he or she would have done had the matter been revealed then. (Eph. 4:32) The innocent party may possibly entertain the hope of once again making up with the former marriage mate and entering into a legal marriage again with that one.
What, then, of the other situation, that of a person still married who, after having forgiven one act of adultery, later comes to learn about other acts of sexual immorality or perversion by the guilty mate, acts committed before such forgiveness was extended? This would give the innocent mate opportunity to reconsider the matter. The Bible shows that even Jehovah God views a practice of sin as being far more serious than a single act of sin. (1 John 1:8–2:1; 3:4-6) While a man or woman may be willing to forgive one act of adultery, he or she may feel differently about forgiving a practice of sexual wrongs over a prolonged period. In such a case, some persons would again choose to forgive the guilty mate but others might want to use this new evidence to obtain a divorce and to establish with the congregation their Scriptural freedom to remarry. This would apply to persons who are separated as well as to those still living together as husband and wife.
Accordingly, acts of marital unfaithfulness that were not forgiven in the past may provide a basis for establishing Scripturally the right to sever the marriage tie in the sight of God. Of course, the person who chooses to do this must be willing to shoulder that responsibility before his Creator. Whereas the elders of the congregation may personally feel that forgiveness would have been more appropriate, they leave the matter in Jehovah’s hands as final Judge. He alone knows the heart of the individual seeking to establish Scriptural freedom to remarry and that one’s motivations. (1 Cor. 4:5) As for any act of marital unfaithfulness that had definitely been forgiven in the past, it cannot later be used as a Scriptural basis for obtaining a divorce or for establishing the right to remarry.
It may be noted that in these matters the Christian congregation is guided by the Scriptures and not by legal stipulations adhered to in certain localities that do not permit the introduction of new evidence after a case has once been heard and decided.