Questions From Readers
● My unbelieving husband admitted to me that he has another woman. Is his admission sufficient ground for a Scriptural divorce?
In some cases if a Christian’s unbelieving mate admits to committing immorality, that would provide a Scriptural basis for a divorce, which, in turn, would free the innocent Christian for remarriage if desired.
Jehovah God’s law to the ancient nation of Israel made provision for divorce on various grounds. (Deut. 24:1, 2) Adultery, homosexuality and bestiality were bases for ending a marriage; the guilty person was to be executed. (Deut. 22:22-24; Lev. 18:22, 23) However, the Law set forth this important requirement: “At the mouth of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one dying should be put to death. He will not be put to death at the mouth of one witness.” (Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Num. 35:30) Being a “lover of righteousness and justice,” Jehovah required that such matters be determined on the basis of proof, of witnesses, not merely suspicion. (Ps. 33:5) This, of course, was stated as regards applying the death penalty, not as regards a divorce action.
Another situation dealt with in the Law also illustrates the importance of proof. What was a man to do if he suspected that his wife had committed adultery but she denied it and there were no witnesses? God’s law outlined a step that could be taken, but it was a drastic one that could have lasting effects for the wife if she was guilty or for the husband if she was innocent. She could be brought before the priest and made to share in a prescribed procedure involving drinking some special water. If she was guilty, she would experience the divine punishment of her ‘thigh falling away,’ apparently meaning that her sexual parts would atrophy and she would lose her ability to conceive. (Num. 5:12-31) Evidently in such cases the adulterous wife, though receiving this extraordinary punishment from God, because she denied guilt and there were not the required two witnesses, was not executed.
What is the situation today in the Christian congregation? Is it possible to obtain substantial testimony as to the grounds for a Scriptural divorce?
Jesus himself stated that for his followers the only ground for divorce, such as would free a person for remarriage, is if one’s mate commits porneia, gross sexual immorality. (Matt. 19:9) Would there be sufficient ground for divorce if a Christian wife merely suspected that her husband was guilty of adultery? No, for the Christian Greek Scriptures carry forward the principle of a matter’s being established by two or three witnesses, as a balanced sense of justice requires. (John 8:17, 18; 1 Tim. 5:19; Heb. 10:28) So, if a wife merely suspected her husband of adultery, but he denied it and there were no witnesses to confirm it, she would not have sufficient basis for establishing with the Christian congregation that she had a right to divorce him and thus be free to remarry.
In some cases, though, an unbelieving mate admits to being immoral. A husband, for instance, might even boast of it to his wife as a taunt to hurt her. She might choose to overlook his waywardness. But what if she feels she cannot or should not? Is his confession enough proof?
In this situation it is not as if he professes innocence or adamantly denies being guilty of adultery. Rather, he admits it to her, though for the sake of his reputation he might not be willing to own up to it in a court of law or before other persons. What can the wife do?
Since she is part of the clean Christian congregation, she should realize the importance of handling the matter properly so that, after divorcing him, if she later remarried there would be no question about her keeping ‘the marriage bed without defilement.’ (Heb. 13:4) To that end she could give the elders representing the congregation a letter outlining her situation, stating that her unbelieving husband confessed to her that he had committed immorality. And she could state that in accord with Matthew 19:9 she wishes to put him away, obtaining a legal divorce and thus ending the marriage Scripturally and legally.
The elders would consider whether there is any known reason to conclude other than that the unbelieving mate had been immoral. If not, they could accept her signed statement.
‘But,’ someone might say, ‘is it not possible to submit a deceptive, untruthful statement, saying that her husband confessed immorality when he actually never said that?’ Actually, it would be gross deception for anyone to try that. David once prayed: “You have examined my heart, you have made inspection by night, you have refined me; you will discover that I have not schemed.” (Ps. 17:3) Conversely, Jehovah is well aware when someone does scheme and He will make sure that the person does not lastingly succeed. Hence, if a Christian woman goes on record as stating that her husband has admitted immorality, Jehovah knows the facts. As the Bible says: “There is not a creation that is not manifest to his sight, but all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.”—Heb. 4:13; Prov. 5:21; Jer. 16:17.
So if there is no reason to doubt the wife’s statement, the congregation elders can leave the matter between her and Jehovah. In that case she would have to bear before God the responsibility as to the actuality of her husband’s immoral course, which would be the Scriptural basis for ending the marriage even if the legal divorce were obtained on some other ground.