Questions From Readers
● In cases of adultery, are there any circumstances where the guilty party could obtain a divorce and be viewed by the congregation as free to remarry?—Jamaica.
There could be circumstances that would allow for the congregation, through its appointed elders, to take such position. Before considering such circumstances, however, we should first review the basic Bible principles concerning divorce.
Jesus’ words at Matthew 5:31, 32 and Mt 19:9 show that the committing of “fornication” (Greek: porneia) by a mate constitutes the only ground for divorce that is valid in God’s eyes. His words also indicate that God grants the innocent mate the right to terminate the marriage, to bring about a dissolution of the marriage bonds.
It should be noted, however, that it is not simply the act of fornication that brings about the loosing of those binding ties. The innocent mate can choose to forgive the wrong act of the adulterous mate. In such a case the marriage bonds remain intact. So, then, the determining factor is, in all cases, the decision of the innocent mate either to forgive or to refuse to forgive the adulterous mate.
What, then, if—following the committing of “fornication” by a mate—the innocent mate thereafter refused to accept such a one back, perhaps refusing to live in the same home or, though living in the same home, refused to have sexual relations with the guilty one, and yet did not seek a legal divorce in the courts of the land? What if this situation continued for a prolonged time, a year or even years, thereby depriving the mate who had committed the wrong of having any honorable sexual relations through his or her mate’s payment of the marriage due?
The Bible shows that married persons should not withhold the marriage due “except by mutual consent for an appointed time,” hence only temporarily, as otherwise temptation could easily enter in. (1 Cor. 7:2-5) To deprive a mate of such due for an extended or unlimited time would be an unloving course. If the non-adulterous mate did this it would constitute evidence that no real forgiveness of the adulterous act had been granted. To all intents and purposes, the non-adulterous mate has rejected the offending one as his or her marriage partner. And, as has been seen, the Scriptural dissolution of a marriage hinges on the decision of the non-adulterous mate to forgive or not to forgive the committing of “fornication” by the other mate.
Jehovah God would certainly be aware of such rejection even though the non-adulterous mate did not go before “Caesar’s” courts to formalize the dissolution of the marriage. It is good to remember that it is the laws of Jehovah’s divine court that are of first importance. Caesar’s authority is relative and does not determine whether the bonds of marriage are broken or remain intact in God’s eyes. (Compare Acts 5:29.) Caesar can only say whether he grants his legal recognition or not to the marriage as still in force. Thus, when the Scriptural ground (“fornication”) does not exist, even though Caesar grants a divorce, it is not valid in God’s eyes to the extent of freeing the divorcees to remarry.
In ‘recommending himself to every human conscience,’ the Christian, of course, rightly will endeavor to gain such legal recognition by the State in marriage or in divorce. (2 Cor. 4:2) But that legal recognition is not the vital factor; God’s judicial decision is. This being so, and since the non-adulterous mate’s decision to forgive or not to forgive is the crucial factor in the dissolving of a marriage, what can the guilty mate do when faced with a situation in which the non-adulterous mate has not forgiven him or her and yet will not formalize the dissolution of the marriage before Caesar? The guilty mate could take action to establish the fact that he or she has actually been rejected by the non-adulterous mate. This should first be done before the elders of the congregation, presenting them with the evidence that a definite, consistent—not temporary—rejection has taken place. Then the one whose mate refuses to forgive could seek legal recognition of the rejection in Caesar’s courts, using whatever truthful grounds for divorce such courts will accept, thereafter becoming free to remarry. In lands where there is no provision for divorce, his or her procedure would follow that described on page 151 of the book True Peace and Security—From What Source?
Elders in a congregation, faced with such a case, should weigh matters judiciously, determining that there is indeed clear and convincing evidence of a definite rejection by the non-adulterous mate. For example, the offended mate might not wish to renew sexual relations for a few weeks or even months due to the memory of the adultery still being fresh in mind. This would not constitute genuine rejection. It should be noted also that the preceding information does not say that the failure to pay the marriage due of itself is a ground for divorce. There must have been “fornication” (the Scriptural ground for divorce) committed by the one who is thereafter deprived of the marriage due and who is, in fact, rejected by the non-adulterous mate.