SDARM, Divorce & Remarriage

Guilty until Proven Innocent: Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement (SDARM) Views on Divorce and Remarriage

The Reformists of the SDARM generally BELIEVE and TEACH:
- A very strict view on divorce.  They forbid divorce and remarriage, even for the innocent party whose spouse has committed adultery.
- Being divorced does not include the right to remarry.
- Jesus’ stated exception in Matt 5:32, 19:9 and Mar 19:9, ‘except in the case of unchasity’, supposedly only concerns unmarried women who come to a marriage without being a virgin.
The Reformists are WRONG because:
- Under OT Law, the right to divorce always implicitly included the right to remarry, as confirmed by Deut 24:2.  The Jewish bill of divorce did (and still does) contain the words ‘You are free to marry again.’
- Jesus contemplated divorcees remarrying.  That is why in Matt 5:32 Jesus talked about a man causing his wife to commit adultery, because a woman simply discarded would have no choice but to commit adultery by remarrying; otherwise, she and her children would starve to death.  There was no social security and women without husbands faced ruin, as the story of Ruth largely demonstrates.
- Jesus’ exclusion clause is not mentioned in Mar 10:11-12 or Luk 16:18 for the simple reason that to their Gentile Christian audiences the right to divorce and remarry in the case of adultery was so well known and obvious that recalling Jesus’ words here were probably not needed.
- Ellen White herself approved of a woman divorcing her husband who had committed adultery.

Introduction: Choosing the Heaviest Burden
As noted by Gerhard Pfandl in Information on the Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement (Biblical Research Institute: July 2003), the SDARM have a very strict view of divorce – the strictest view – where there is no possibility of remarriage:
Divorce and Remarriage – The stand taken by the Reform Movement on this subject is that no matter what has taken place in a marital breakup, there is no possibility even for the innocent party to be restored to church membership if he or she remarries.’
Moreover, as similarly observed by Vance Ferrel in The Adventist Reform Church (Pilgrims Books: 1998) at page 33-34:
One rather remarkable error of the Reform Church concerns divorce and remarriage. Their leaders teach that there are absolutely no Biblical grounds for remarriage for anyone who has been divorced—for any reason.’
Furthermore, as finally explained by Helmut Kramer, SDA Reform Movement (Biblical Research Institute: July 2003) at page 43-46:
‘Divorce and Remarriage
Another concern, about which the Reform Movement refuses to accept the plain teachings of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, is the matter of divorce and remarriage. Jesus said, ‘And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery" (Matt 19:9).
The teaching of the Reformers is, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, even if it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery." This stand is not only a perversion of the Bible but also of the clear instruction of the Spirit of Prophecy.’
As will be discussed in this article, whilst the SDARM argument does have some merit, in the sense that it represents an arguable point of view, it certainly is not an obvious one.  Instead the Reformists deny the ‘Thus saith the Lord’ and engage in the sort of theological gymnastics that would put a Pharisee to shame.  Therefore, given Jesus’ words are somewhat unclear, open to more than one possible meaning, it is interesting that the SDARM have gone out of their way to chose a minority and very Roman Catholic view at odds with Protestantism, all so they can impose as great a burden on their members as possible.  Such an extreme view would not in itself be so condemnable, if it were not that the Reformists in their typical style then impose it as a test for membership.

Official SDARM Position on Divorce and Remarriage: The Strict View
The SDARM official position on the topic is set out in their statement of fundamental belief titled Marriage:
‘It has been God's purpose from the very beginning that the marriage vow should bind both parties to each other by indissoluble ties "for life." Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:11, 12; Luke 16:18. Therefore, divorce is not in harmony with the will of God. Malachi 2:14-16. In case of separation, both are to remain single until the death of the other partner or until they are reconciled to each other. Romans 7:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7:10-15, 39. (Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 are explained in separate publications, showing that these two verses do not sanction or advocate divorce and remarriage.)’ (emphasis added)
Moreover, as similarly stated from the Headquarters of the SDARM:
‘5. We believe that keeping the commandments of God includes the correct understanding of the 7th commandment, that is, there can be no divorce and remarriage while one of the spouses is still alive.’
Finally, as explained in “Study 8: Is Marriage a Contract for Life”, the question in dispute is whether the ‘innocent party’ in the case of adultery should be permitted to divorce and remarry:
‘What is not clear to some people is whether his ex-wife, the innocent party, is now free to remarry. Should the exception clause found in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, together with Sister White's personal advice concerning a second marriage, be taken as final evidence for a doctrine and a rule in behalf of divorce and remarriage? Some are ready to say, Yes. We, however, differ and, hereunder, we set forth the reasons why we think otherwise.’

Matt 5:32 and 19:9: Scriptural Basis for the Exception for Divorce
Background to Jesus’ comments on the subject of divorce
The SDARM publication “Study 8: Is Marriage a Contract for Life”, has a fairly accurate reflection of the background on Jesus’ comments on the subject of divorce:
‘In the days of Christ there were among the Jews two schools of thought and practice. One was led by Shammai, who granted divorce on the ground of adultery alone, while the other was under the direction of Hillel, who condoned divorce on any pretext which the husband might have. The Pharisees were often involved in the controversy between these two schools, and now they decided to tempt Jesus by drawing Him into the conflict.
Jesus made it clear that the bill of divorcement mentioned in the legislation of Moses (Deut. 24:1-5) was not a command, as the Pharisees tried to interpret it, but only a consent based, not on the perfect will of God, but on the hardness of their hearts, which were influenced by social customs. Jesus appealed to Genesis 2:24 against Deuteronomy 24:1-5, showing that, in the plan of salvation, the perfect will of God must triumph over the hardness of man's heart and over any and every consent thereby obtained.’
One will note that in both the Shammai and Hillel rabbinical schools, the issue was not divorce per se.  Both schools took the idea that divorce could be given in the case of adultery as a given, a point that will be explained later.  Rather, the question was whether divorce was also possible in less extreme circumstances, for something less than full-blown adultery, such as a wife simply no longer being young or pretty.  This question still arises today, where some Christians wonder if something less than full-blown adultery, such as say emotional and physical abuse, is sufficient grounds for divorce and remarriage.
It was the Hillel school that held divorce could be given for any cause, even the most trivial reason, such as burning her husband’s dinner.  This is illustrated in Matt 19:3:
‘Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”’
The exception of ‘except for sexual immorality’
Jesus’ reply was that divorce and remarriage were not allowed, except for sexual immorality.  Jesus’ made this point twice, once in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5:32, and then in this later dispute with the Pharisees in Matt 19:9:
But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.’ (Matt 5:32, NRSV, emphasis added)
‘And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.’ (Matt 19:9, emphasis added)
Moreover, as set out in the King James Version (KJV):
‘But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.’ (Matt 5:32, emphasis added)
‘And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.’ (Matt 19:9, emphasis added)
Finally, in the New Standard Version Bible (NASB), so readers get the full sense of possible translations:
‘but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.’ (Matt 5:32, emphasis added)
‘And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.’ (Matt 19:9, emphasis added)
The key question in debate here, as far as SDA versus SDARM views of divorce and remarriage are concerned, is whether the exception clause allows the innocent party in the case of adultery to remarry.  The SDARM publication “Study 8: Is Marriage a Contract for Life” helpfully encapsulates the principal issue:
‘Does this clause ("except it be for fornication") apply only to the putting away of the guilty wife or does it necessarily extend to the remarriage of the innocent husband? From a purely grammatical standpoint, it can be said that by the exception clause the innocent husband is allowed to repudiate his guilty wife, but it cannot be dogmatized that, by the same clause, he is automatically permitted to remarry. The grammatical construction of the verse makes this second right questionable… So, while the exception in Matthew 19:9 permits the first step (separation), it does not necessarily apply to the second step (remarriage).’
The Reasons for SDARM Objections
It appears the SDARM has several principal objections to the notion that the exception clauses in Matt 5:32 and 19:9 allow a divorcee to remarry where they were the innocent party in the case of adultery:
  • Divorce does not in itself allow remarriage.
  • Adultery is different from fornication.
  • The exception clause only applies to cheating on a fiancée through pre-marital sex (i.e. a woman coming to the marriage-bed not a virgin).
  • Jesus’ exception in Matt 19:9 would contradict Paul’s counsel in 1 Cor 7:10-15,29; Rom 7:1-3.
Each of these SDARM objections will be examined in turn.
The importance of cultural context
Before we look at each of the SDARM objections in depth, it is important to recognise the cultural context of Jesus’ statements.  It appears the SDARM itself admits the importance of cultural context as well (which is somewhat a departure from their usual proof-texting in a vacuum).  As acknowledged in “Study 8: Is Marriage a Contract for Life”:
‘The correct interpretation of certain texts depends on an understanding of regional and contemporary conditions on, which these texts stand. This is true especially with verses referring to the marriage institution. In the Jewish society, the initiative in seeking a divorce would always come from the husband.’
One should recognise that Jesus’ audience composed Jewish rabbinical scholars, living in a patriarchal society, which might broadly parallel to modern-day Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan.  This was not a type of society Jesus was promoting or advocating, but rather a society at odds with God’s original plan for marital relationships, as one can see in His statement in Matt 19:8. 
Moreover, as will be explained later on, the passages in Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18 are slightly different.  Part of the probably reason is because their audience was primarily Gentile converts – not Jewish Christians.  As such, their cultural context was slightly different.  For example, where Matt only deals with men divorcing their wives, Mark and Luke talk about either spouse initiating divorce – given this was the legal position within Greco-Roman Gentile society.
Finally, a major point to consider is that in ancient patriarchal societies, as in many societies including the West before the 1960s, married women had few educational and vocational opportunities outside of housewife and mother.  As such, if a husband divorced his wife and cut-off economic aid, the woman (and usually any children) would have no recourse to a livelihood, outside getting remarried or in desperation engaging in a sinful profession such as prostitution. Thus, Jesus’ narrowing of the grounds for divorce were likely to be motivated out of a desire to protect women from financial destitution by unreasonable husbands seeking perhaps a younger and prettier wife.  
Divorce does not in itself allow remarriage
The first SDARM objection is that divorce in itself does not supposedly give a right to remarriage. As argued in “Study 8: Is Marriage a Contract for Life”:
‘This scripture, as can be seen, is primarily concerned with the husband's responsibility toward his wife. It shows under what circumstances he may become guilty in connection with her transgressions. There is no word, however, concerning his right to remarry.’
There are two primary reasons why this view is not correct. 
A bill of divorce implicitly included the right to remarry
First, to Jesus’ audience, it would have been a nonsense to say that one could obtain a divorce but not remarry. Deut 24:2 confirms that when a women receives a certificate of divorce by her husband she:
‘goes off to become another man’s wife.’
Thus, as observed by Davies and Allison in Matthew, Vol I. I-VII, Vol II. VIII-XVIII , Vol III. XIX-XXVIII (Edinburgh: Clark, 1988/1991/1997) at page 17:
‘The Jewish divorce bill contained the clause “You are free to marry again.”’
As similarly noted in the “IVP-NT” commentary on the passage by Biblegateway on Matthew 19:
‘No one permitted remarriage if a divorce was invalid, but a valid divorce by definition included the right to remarry, as is attested by ancient divorce contracts (see, for example, m. Gittin 9:3; CPJ 2:10-12, 144; Carmon 1973:90-91, 200-201) and the very meaning of the term (besides sources in Keener 1991a, see, for example, Jos. Ant. 4.253; Blomberg 1992:111).’ (emphasis added)
Jesus’ own words contemplate a divorcee remarrying
Second, Jesus’ own words in Matt 5:32 contemplate that a divorced wife will inevitably remarry.  As observed by Davies and Allison in Matthew at page17:
‘To obtain a divorce was to obtain permission to remarry. In line with this, [verse] 5.32 simply assumes that divorce leads to remarriage (to divorce a wife is to make her commit adultery – because she will take another spouse).’
Thus, Davies and Allison point to historical evidence; however, the evidence from Jesus himself supports their position.  As they observe, how can a man divorcing his wife, even where she is totally innocent, causes her to commit adultery’ (KJV) as Jesus’ describes in Matt 5:32? The answer is that in the absence of the exception clause for sexual immortality, even if the woman is innocent and wrongly divorced (e.g. say cast aside by her husband for no longer being young and pretty) she still becomes an adulterous.  She becomes an adulterous because such a wife would, in accordance with Jewish cultural norms, have no recourse but to get remarried, otherwise she would face economic ruin.
Parallel passages in Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18
Finally, it has been observed that parallel passages are found in Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18, but which do not have the exclusion clause mentioned.  Does this mean then the Gospel’s contradict?  No. 
The most likely reason is because to the Gentile audience of Mark and Luke, divorce was permitted also in the case of adultery.  Thus, it was so obvious that it needed not be mentioned to them, as observed by the “IVP-NT” commentary in Biblegateway on Matthew 19:
‘Mark and Luke probably could assume such an exception without explicitly stating it (Carson 1984:418).’
And as similarly explained in the “Ransom for Many” commentary on the passage by Biblegateway on Matthew 19:
‘What does this passage tell us, in practice, about divorce? Jesus’ words here could be taken as an absolute prohibition of divorce; that is how some Christians have understood them. But if we look at the account of the same incident in Matthew, we read something slightly different. There, Jesus says that if anyone divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, he commits adultery (Matthew 19:9). There is an exception. In Matthew, Jesus makes an exception for the case where one partner has betrayed the marriage through adultery. Why hasn’t Mark – or Luke either, for that matter – included that vital extra clause? Almost certainly, it’s because it was seen as obvious. Jewish custom actually required divorce in such a case (which Jesus certainly does not say). It was not necessary to add that divorce was permitted in cases of adultery.’ (emphasis added)
Interestingly, Jesus’ words in Mark and Luke contemplate both husband and wife initiating divorce, rather than just a husband divorcing his wife as in Matthew.  This is because:
‘Roman law permitted either party to divorce the other; Jewish law permitted the husband to divorce the wife, regardless of the wife's wishes (Keener 1991a:51).’
Thus, it appears Jesus narrowed the grounds for divorce, no longer allowing it to occur in flippant situations, such as a wife burning her husband’s toast.  However, there is no suggestion that Jesus narrowed it to preclude divorce in the case of adultery. In fact, as will be seen in the next objection, Jesus may have in fact widened the scope to allow divorce in any situation where a spouse commits a sexual perversion – not just the traditional affair with a married woman.
Adultery is different from fornication
The second major objection of the SDARM is that the exception clause supposedly only applies to fornication, not to adultery.  As argued in “Study 8: Is Marriage a Contract for Life”:
‘For transgression of the seventh commandment under two different circumstances the New Testament uses two different words-fornication (porneia) and adultery (moikeia). Both sins are mentioned side by side, which indicates that they are not used synonymously. See examples: Matt. 15:19; Mark 7:21; 1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19; Heb. 13:4. In a strictly technical sense, fornication is not adultery.
…Because the distinction between fornication and adultery, and between a betrothed wife and a wedded wife is often over looked, Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 are regarded as allowing divorce and remarriage in cases where the prior marriage was broken by reason of adultery.’
The SDARM is correct that fornication (‘porneia’ Gk. nakedness ervah’ and defilement ‘tame’) can sometimes mean something different from adultery (‘moichao’ Gk. na'aph’ Heb.) – but not always.  Passages such as Matt 7:21 list adultery and fornication separately, so the Reformists are probably correct that they do not necessarily mean the same thing in that context.  However, as to other situations the matter is not as clear as the SDARM suggest, because sometimes the terms can be understood interchangeably.
As observed by Davies and Allison in Matthew at page 8, citing Deut 22:22; Lev 18:20, adultery usually meant sexual activity with another man’s wife.  This is also confirmed in Strong’s Concordance at G3429.
Fornication by contrast as explained in Strong’s Concordance at G4202 can mean a broader concept, akin to all forms of illicit sexual immorality, often but not always with an unmarried woman.  The term is often translated as ‘whoredom’ because it is often associated with prostitution, especially pagan temple position.  A good example of the use of the term is Paul’s discussion of prostitution in 1 Cor 6:15-17.
However, these distinctions are not always clear-cut, and not always used as such by biblical authors.
Jesus may have been trying to use fornication in the broadest sense to cover all types of sexual sin, rather than attempting to exclude adultery
First, the whole issue is not as clear as the SDARM suggest because both adultery and fornication are often used in the Bible as generic terms describing all forms of sexual immorality, rather than having definite narrow meanings. 
As to adultery (‘moichao’ Gk. na'aph’ Heb.), the simplest illustration is the seventh commandment itself in Ex 20:14, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ God through Moses clearly did not give this command only to prohibit sexual intercourse with another man’s wife, but is a broad command designed to prohibit all forms of sexual immorality. Similarly, Jesus radically expanded what constituted adultery in Matt 5:28 to include merely, ‘anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’
As for fornication (‘porneia’), as Strong’s Concordance at G4202 demonstrates, fornication can include adultery.  It also includes all other forms of degenerate sexual behaviour, including homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality and incest.  Its Hebrew equivalents include both nakedness (‘ervah’) and defilement (‘tame’). 
The list of sexual perversions in Lev 18 includes things that technically are adultery, such as having sex with a neighbour’s wife in Lev 18:20, or sex with one’s own mother in Lev 18:7 (which would be adultery because it is sex with another man’s wife, being one’s own father).  Similarly, when the Council of Apostles and Elders in Acts 15:20 instructed the Gentile believers to refrain from fornication (‘porneia’), they obviously meant all sexually immoral behavior in its widest sense, including adultery.
Thus, the SDARM thesis that Jesus only meant fornication, being sex with an unmarried woman, is not necessary supported by the facts.  Jesus could have meant fornication in its widest sense covering all types of sexual sin, including adultery.
Jesus was not concerned with divorce in the case of adultery
Second, the SDARM arguably asks the wrong question.  The question asked by the Pharisees, who were embroiled in their own internal dispute about divorce, was not whether divorce was allowed in case of adultery – that was already a given understanding.  Both the Hillel and Shammai schools allowed divorce in cases of adultery.  As observed by D. Hagner in Matthew, 2 vols Word Bib Comm 33AB (Dallas: Word, 1993/1995) at page 547, the question was whether:
‘Would Jesus side with the school of Shammai, which allowed divorce only on the grounds of sexual immorality, or would he side with the school of Hillel, which sanctioned divorce on the most trivial grounds.’
This is made clear in Matt 19:3, where Jesus was asked:
‘Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’
Moreover, as observed by Davies and Allison in Matthew at page 8 and 16:
‘the Pharisees would not, it is alleged, have asked whether divorce was permitted.
…cases of adultery are entirely excluded from the argument on the grounds that they were already dealt with in Deut 22:22.’
Finally, as observed by the “IVP-NT” commentary in Biblegateway on Matthew 19:
‘In practice both schools agreed that the law at least often granted the man a right to divorce, regrettable as divorce was (as in b. Sanhedrin 22a).’
So the SDARM may be correct in that the exception clause only deals with fornication, not adultery, but the reason for that is because Jesus and the Pharisees were not even considering the issue of divorce for adultery.  The fact that adultery allowed for divorce was probably a presumed given. 
Adultery did not technically require a certificate of divorce
Third, the reason why Jesus and the Pharisees may not even have been considering the issue of divorce for adultery is because adultery strictly did not even require a certificate of divorce under the Law.  The reason for that is simple – the punishment for adultery is death – not divorce. Deut 22:22 clearly states:
‘If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.’
Thus, the appropriate remedy for a spouse caught in the act of adultery is not issuing a certificate of divorce – it was having them executed!  And there was no issue with the innocent party in such a scenario being allowed to remarry, because they would not be a divorcee but a widow, and where a widow can remarry as made clear in 1 Cor 7:39.
However, by the time of Jesus, the Jews usually no longer carried out executions for adultery – although such a case is described in John 8:8-16 (compare with places like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan today). Instead, the common practice was to commute the death-sentence to divorce instead.  Importantly, not only did Jews consider divorcing a spouse caught in adultery a right, they considered it an obligation.  As explained by Davies and Allison in Matthew at page 16:
‘the death penalty was neither pronounced nor inflicted for adultery in the time of Christ, but we know that soon after the time of Christ Jewish husbands were compelled to divorce their wives for unchastity, and so the possibility cannot be ruled out that in Christ’s day divorce on this ground would have seemed so obviously right as to be beyond discussion altogether.’
It is inconceivable that Jesus would allow divorce for the ‘lesser’ sin of fornication but not the ‘greater crime’ of divorce
Fourth, it is inconceivable that Jesus would allow divorce for the ‘lesser’ sin of fornication but not the ‘greater’ sin crime of divorce.
As much as it may surprise us, the Law of Moses did not treat all sins equally. As discussed above, adultery was the seen as the ‘greatest’ of all sexual crimes, and as such, the punishment in the Law for adultery is death. By contrast, fornication did not usually result in the punishment of death, even where it was rape, as long as the woman was unmarried! The principle question is whether another third-party is violated by the sexual act.
The difference between adultery and fornication is perhaps best seen between two types of pre-marital sex:

  • Sex with an unmarried woman, but who is already engaged, where the punishment is death: Deut 22:23-27.
  • Sex with an unmarried woman, but who was not already engaged, where the punishment is a fine and forced marriage: Deut 22:28-29.
Again, the difference is adultery hurts third parties, whilst fornication often does not.  The obvious reason for this, putting oneself in the patriarchal mindset of Middle Eastern culture, is because adultery shames not only those doing the sinful activity, but shames the innocent spouse and their wider family. It is such shaming that leads to terrible honour killings in many Middle Eastern societies today. 
Most patriarchal societies, including the West until about 1960s, did practically treat adultery and fornication differently. If a man had an affair with another married woman, including a woman engaged to be married, that was considered a serious matter and grounds for a divorce (or sometimes murder by jealous husbands) – because it insulted the other married man. 
However, if a man had intercourse with an unmarried woman, say his secretary, or visited a prostitute, that was often viewed as just ‘sowing wild oats’ or a mere ‘slip-up.’ The difference is, relatively speaking, no other man is hurt by the sinful sexual act.
Thus, it would be incredulous to Jesus’ audience if He was saying one could obtain a divorce for the ‘lesser’ crime of fornication but that it was not available for the far ‘greater’ crime of adultery.
Sex is marriage; extra-marital sex destroys marriage
Finally, Jesus may have been addressing a wider principle here – sexual intercourse is marriage.  Jesus statement in 19:5, referring to Gen 1:1, suggests it is sexual union that makes a man and woman one flesh. The first couple, Adam and Eve, seemed to undertake no special ritual except consummate the relationship.  Instead, what all human cultures across time affirm is sexual union in forming a marriage relationship, which is why casual sex of modern society is so evil.
This is somewhat confirmed by the story of Isaac and Rebecca, where one reads in Gen 24:67:
‘Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.’
Paul seems to come to a similar conclusion that sex makes a marriage in 1 Cor 6:15-17:
‘Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall be one flesh.’ But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! [pornea] Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself.’
Paul warns people about having extra-marital sex with prostitutes, because in doing so they enter into a new marriage relationship (becoming one flesh) with that prostitute!  So Paul asks, what business does a Christian have in uniting in one body with a prostitute?  D. Hagner in Matthew at page 548 seems to agree:
‘God has yoked [them] together (in the NT only here and in the parallel in Mark 10:9) in a mysterious union, described as “one flesh” (Paul seems to interpret this as sexual intercourse in 1 Cor 6:16).’
Thus, coming back to Matt 19:9, as the “IVP-NT” commentary on the passage by Biblegateway on Matthew 19 observes, adultery has the biblical effect of dissolving a marriage:
‘To repudiate a wife after she had committed adultery was therefore simply the recognition that the marriage had already been terminated by the creation of a new union. . . . The Matthaean exceptive clause is . . . making explicit what any Jewish reader would have taken for granted when Jesus made the apparently unqualified pronouncements of Mark 10:9-12.’
Therefore, Jesus is perhaps making an obvious but wider point.  When a couple has sexual intercourse, it is that act which ‘marries’ them as husband and wife.  If a married woman has sex with a man other than her husband, she has in effect married a new man.  If a married man has sex with an unmarried woman, he has obtained a new wife and entered into a relationship of polygamy. Both of these situations are clearly condemned by Jesus as dissolving the marriage union.
The exception clause only applies to cheating on a fiancée through pre-marital sex (i.e. a woman coming to the marriage-bed not a virgin)
The third Reformist objection and the way they explain away the exception clause is to suggest it only covers a situation where a man later discovers his fiancée had premarital sex.  The example they give is Joseph’s intention to divorce Mary (who he was engaged to at the time) in Matt 1:20. As argued in “Study 8: Is Marriage a Contract for Life”:
While Joseph and Mary were husband and wife only in the sense that they were betrothed to each other, and, therefore, prior to their coming together in actual marriage, we read that Jesus was born. Trying to capitalize on this circumstance and to destroy His reputation, the Jews said to Jesus: "We be not born of fornication." John 8:41. It is evident, therefore, that they used the term "fornication" for sexual crime committed by a betrothed wife before the actual marriage had taken place.
Once the above circumstances are admitted in connection with Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, it should not be difficult to understand that the purpose of the exception clause (whether originally spoken by Jesus or later interpolated by a copyist) was to show that a man is free to reject his betrothed wife for the crime of premarital unfaithfulness.’
There are also several problems with the above rationale, in limiting Jesus’ exemption clause to just where a man finds out his betrothed had engaged in pre-marital sex with another man. Whilst fornication can no doubt extend to types of pre-marital sex, it clearly is not limited to such circumstances.
If Mary had had pre-marital sex it would have been adultery – not fornication
The first and most obvious problem with the SDARM view is that if Mary had had pre-marital sex with another man it would not be considered mere fornication but adultery – as the SDARM understands the terms.  As such, Mary would have deserved the death penalty as prescribed by Deut 22:13-14,20-21:
Suppose a man marries a woman, but after going in to her, he dislikes her and makes up charges against her, slandering her by saying, ‘I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity.’…If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.’
The scriptures tell us in Matt 1:19 that Joseph was a good man and as such was planning a quiet divorce.  The obvious reason why it was to be quiet is because if it were made public, Mary might not merely suffer scorn but the death penalty, as occurred in John 8:8-16.
The Pharisee’s insult in 8:41 was not necessarily directed at Jesus
The Pharisee’s insult in 8:41 that they were not ‘born of fornication’ would not have been directed at Jesus, as Jesus’ virgin mother was betrothed at pregnancy – not single.  As the SDARM elsewhere admit, the Jews saw betrothal as unconsummated marriage.  Thus, if the Pharisees were making such a claim, they would have said Jesus was born of adultery – not fornication.  For these reasons, the Pharisees were probably making a broader statement about themselves being true children of Abraham, not specifically talking about Jesus.
Fornication can occur in situations after marriage – it isn’t only concerned with pre-marital sex
Fornication can include premarital sex, including a single woman becoming pregnant (John 8:41).  However, it is not true to say fornication occurs only in situations involving pre-marital sex.  Any sex potentially with an unmarried person (usually an unmarried woman) can be considered fornication rather than adultery.  One such scenario is discussed by Paul in 1 Cor 5:1-2, where a man sleeps with his widowed stepmother (it appears his father has died):
‘It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality [porneia] among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you?’
As observed in the “Reformation Bible Study”, citing in Biblegateway:
‘The man’s father may have died, or the woman may have been a stepmother. In any case, the sexual relationship in view is the incestuous union explicitly condemned in Lev. 18:8. Though the Greco-Roman culture of Paul’s day tolerated a wide array of immoral activities, even Gentiles censured this kind of incest.
In addition, it appears the most common form of fornication was, as outlined above, prostitution.  As Paul makes clear in 1 Cor 6:15-18:
‘Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall be one flesh.’ But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! [porneia] Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself.’
Finally, it appears fornication can involve gross sexual perversions, including between persons already married.  Paul mentions one such scenario in 1 Cor 10:7-8, reminiscing on an orgy that occurred when the Children of Israel constructed the golden calf.
If a Christian brother or sister found their spouse having homosexual sex, or sex with an animal, or something less than actual male-female genital coitus (such as anal sex or oral sex), then such behaviour would not technically amount to adultery in the narrow SDARM understanding of the term (being sexual intercourse with a married woman).  However, such behaviour is clearly fornication, and as such, would be grounds for divorce, even though the couple involved may be long married.  For the avoidance of doubt, a man who has been married for 20 years, who discovers his wife is in a lesbian relationship, would have grounds to divorce her for reasons of fornication.
Thus, the SDARM has no real evidence other than pure speculation to suggest Jesus’ exception was only limited to allow a man to reject his betrothed wife for the crime of premarital unfaithfulness.  As terrible as it seems, there are a whole host of sexual perversions, many of which occur long after marriage, which amount to fornication.
Matt 19:9 would contradict Paul’s counsel in 1 Cor 7:10-15,39
The final objection of the SDARM is to argue Jesus’ exemption in Matt 19:9 would contradict Paul’s writings in 1 Cor 7:10-15,39 if remarriage after divorce were possible. As argued in “Study 8: Is Marriage a Contract for Life”:
‘In 1 Corinthians 7:10-15, 39, Paul speaks of Christian wives separated from their unbelieving husbands. Adultery in this case is not mentioned, but its existence is self-evident, because, as a rule, heathen men would certainly become involved with other women after putting away their Christian wives. No amount of naivety would make us believe that they would remain chaste. Nevertheless, the rule set down for the separated wife is irrelevant to the moral (or immoral?) conduct of the husband. So long as the husband lives, a Christian wife who is separated from her husband has only two possibilities-either remain single or become reconciled to him.’
There are a number of problems with the SDARM view that Paul is advocating divorce or separation but not remarriage:
  • Paul makes clear in v10 that this is not a command from God from his own personal opinion.  He comes to this view because He believes time is too short. Paul’s comment that virgins in vs26-28 shouldn’t marry is reflective of this. Thus, his comments represent an ‘interim ethic’ because of ‘the current crisis’ that is not necessarily reflective of more general morality.
  • The SDARM claim that ‘heathen men would certainly become involved with other women after putting away their Christian wives’ is not borne out.  There were cases of heathen men in ancient Roman who retained Jewish-God-fearing or Christian wives – Emperor Constantine’s own mother being a notable example. Moreover, because of polytheistic nature of Greco-Roman religion, the fact that one’s spouse believed in another god, such as the Jewish God, would not in itself be special cause for alarm or divorce under Roman law.
  • There are crucial ‘ifs’ in vs 12 and 13.  It is only ‘if’ a Christian has a disbelieving spouse and ‘if’ that heathen wife is willing to live with him or her that the unbelieving spouse should not be divorced.  However, ‘if’ the unbelieving spouse leaves, then vs 15 says the Christian is ‘not bound’ to his or her spouse. 
  • The passage is only concerned about whether divorce is permitted in the case of a disbelieving spouse.  As the SDARM right say, it says nothing about adultery.  Thus, one cannot presume that Paul was trying to teach that divorce and remarriage was not permitted in the case of adultery, which was so obvious to the point of not mentioning it, to both Jewish and Gentile audiences.  At most, all Paul is saying is that being separate religions is not necessarily sufficient grounds to divorce one’s spouse, at least where the unbelieving spouse seeks no divorce.
  • The SDARM view suggests the possibility of polygamy.  If a disbelieving spouse does obtain a divorce and then remarries, what is the legal status of the first believing wife if she is not permitted to remarry?  How could the first believing wife be expected to reconcile with her husband under vs39? If such a reconciliation did occur, what would happen to the second wife?  It is for this sort of bizarre possibility that the Law in Deut 22:3 prohibits reconciliation with an ex-wife.  Thus, Paul is clearly saying ‘if’ an unbelieving spouse stays, then divorce on religious grounds should not occur; however, ‘if’ they leave, and divorce occurs, then the marriage is at a total end with no possibility for reconciliation.   
Thus, the passage is not as conclusive in prohibiting divorce and remarriage as the SDARM claim.
Plan B: SOP
Ellen White offers nothing to assist the SDARM in their view. In fact, her counsel suggests divorce and remarriage in certain circumstances is permissible. For example, in 1895 Ellen White did specifically say it was permitted for a Mr “J”, the innocent party in a divorce, to be free to marry another woman: 
‘J did not put his wife away. She left him, and put him away, and married another man. I see nothing in the Scripture that forbids him to marry again in the Lord. He has a right to the affections of a woman . . I cannot see that this new union should be disturbed. It is a serious matter to part a man and his wife. There is no Scriptural ground upon which to take such a step in this case . . It was not until K had married another man that J married again.’—Letter 50,1895 [2 Selected Messages, 340].
Ellen White also had the common sense opinion that where a man commits adultery, women should show the same mercy as Christ and try to heal the marital rift.  However, that advice would make no sense whatsoever if there was not such right for the wife to utilise.  Moreover, Ellen White was also extremely progressive, in raising the prospect of a woman leaving her husband where her husband had committed adultery, and it endangered her health and life to remain with him:
‘In cases of the violation of the seventh commandment, where the guilty party does not manifest true repentance, if the injured party can obtain a divorce without making their own cases and that of their children, if they have them, worse by so doing, they should be free....
Why will not those who are overtaken in crime [adultery] manifest repentance proportionate to the enormity of their crime, and fly to Christ for mercy, and heal, as far as possible, the wounds they have made?
But, if they will not do as they should, and if the innocent have forfeited the legal right to a divorce, by living with the guilty after his guilt is known, we do not see that sin rests upon the innocent in remaining, and her moral right in departing seems questionable, if her health and life be not greatly endangered in so remaining.’ (RH March 24, 1868.)
The SDARM response to these statements from Ellen White is nothing short of amazing.  Amazing in the sense that the Reformist argument is to denigrate the authority of Sister White on this matter, noting her own admission that not every little thing from a prophet is from God, for ‘common things… are not given under the special inspiration of the Spirit of God (1SM 38, 39).  Thus the SDARM claim:
‘According to this statement, when a prophet writes on common subjects, he may use his personal conclusions without depending on a special revelation from the Lord. And according to examples given before, the prophet may also speak his own mind on subjects which are not so common. When Sister White wrote on the subject of divorce, she could only give her personal advice…
After reading the documents I today send you, you will say, 'Well, he has not given me anything authoritative from Sister White that directly answers the question.' But I think you will see from what I am sending you that it was Sister White's intention that there should not go forth from her pen anything that could be used as a law or a rule in dealing with these questions of marriage, divorce, remarriage, and adultery…
It is obvious that, if those letters were not included in the nine volumes of Testimonies for the Church, they should not be used as a rule or law in the church.’
Whilst this author welcomes the SDARM admission that not every single thing out of Mrs White’s mouth is directly from God (similar to Paul’s ‘I have no command from the Lord’), the fact they do so is quite astounding, given the Reformists usually treat every jot and tittle of her writings as gospel.  However, to suggest Ellen White didn’t know the answer to this issue simply returns one back to square one – Jesus’ unambiguous statements in Matt 5:32 and 19:9.

Jesuits under the SDARM Bed: Adventist-Catholics
The interesting thing about the SDARM view is that it is wholly inconsistent with Protestantism.  In fact, the SDARM’s strict view is most similar to the Roman Catholic Church, based on Sacred Tradition of the Church Fathers.   As observed by Davies and Allison in Matthew at page17:
‘The problem whether 19.9 allows remarriage for the innocent party (so traditionally most Protestants) cannot, as Augustine conceded be finally answered… Grammatical reflections cannot decide.  Patristic opinions [tradition of Catholic Fathers], burdened by a less than enthusiastic view of marriage, disallowed remarriage and so understood our text accordingly (cf. Pope Innocent I).’
Whilst this author is not one for belief in infiltrating Catholic Jesuits and other conspiracy theories, the number of beliefs and practices of the SDARM that upon closer examination show remarkable similarity to the Papacy is indeed unusual and troubling.

Conclusion: A Test of Membership
Finally, notwithstanding one’s view on divorce and remarriage, a related but separate question is whether such an issue should be a test of membership, or rather something left to each individual in their own conscience to decide.  According to the SDARM in “Study 8: Is Marriage a Contract for Life”:
‘In the days of the apostles, those holding certain offices in the church, as well as widows entitled to the ministration of the relief fund, had to meet certain conditions, one of which was blamelessness. Thus only "husbands of one wife" could serve as pastors (bishops) and deacons, and only a widow who "had been the wife of one man" would qualify to be put on the list of those for whom the church had to provide (1 Tim. 3:2, 12; 5:9). For this reason, the Samaritan woman (John 4:l6-18), who had been the wife of more than one husband, and had therefore "broken God's commandments" (Story of Jesus, p. 55), would not meet the requirements. This fact is additional evidence that divorce and remarriage is not in conformity with the perfect will of God.’
The problem with the above is that it illustrates even if the SDARM’s view were true, the test for Church office is radically different from the test of ordinary membership.  By the SDARM’s own standards, as wholly admitted above, the Samaritan woman at the well would not qualify for membership in their own Reformist Church. As such the SDARM rejects from fellowship people went out of His way to draw near!  


  1. Independant loonie John Thiel makes a frank confession

    1. I watched it. I was a bit confused whether John Thiel was actually admitting to being a womanizer or merely admitting these are accusations against him, where his reply is in effect - 'So what, my sins are forgiven.'

      I think the more important question is not whether John Thiel was or was not actually a womanizer but rather the theological point he was making.

      First, it seems John is saying we are all forgiven and shouldn't judge him about these accusations. However, my reading of Jesus' statement in Matt 18 and Paul's in 1 Cor 15 is that we are indeed meant to judge. There is just due process in judging. I don't know if these accusations are true, but I take it John Thiel's own former Reform Church has determined these accusations of sexual indiscretion of sufficient truth that he lost his right to be Minister (and perhaps he lost fellowship)?

      I am willing to admit the accusations are wrong and it is all lies. However, if the Reform Church was wrong in its judging him, that only seems to prove to me the SDARM's judgmental attitude. It would only seem to support the primary purpose of this website.

      This leads to my second observation. I would be more inclined to give John Thiel the benefit of the doubt if he was suggesting a non-judgment attitude all round. However, looking at his various sermons on Sabbath Sermons, he seems to be very judgmental himself. Like many Reformers, he seems to make minor things, like wearing pants for a woman, shaving legs, having long hair or meat eating, into tests of fellowship.

      Thus, regardless of whether the accusations themselves are true or not, the more important question is whether John Thiel judges others in the same way he expects he should be judged about these sexual accusations. Is it one rule for John Thiel and another for everyone else? I hope it wouldn't be - but I doubt it.

  2. I found that reformers have a really difficult time answering the questions found in the link below. I complied these questions. I used to be an SDARM, but left over this issue. The above was very accurate and very good.

  3. i would like to respectfully put forward first Isaiah 8:20, "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them," and then consider luke 16:18, "Whosoever putteth away his wife and marrieth another, committeth adutlery, and whoso marrieth her that is put away from her husband comitteth adutlery." I submit that "Whosoever putteth away his wife and marrieth another," is the guilty party, guilty of adultery, for 1.Putting away his wife for the reason of marrying another woman, which according to Matthew 5:32 declares that he commits adultery for provoking his faithful wife to be tempted to replace him by remarrige and 2.It is adultery to desire let alone put away one's wife in order to remarry and the act of consumation of the second marriage is the very act of adultery and 3.The second marriage is the only thing which can defile the first marriage for ever, so making it a transgression of the first commandment to even attempt reconciliation with the first wife after either or both have remarried, this second marriage is referred to in Matthew 19:6, (second part) "...what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." The innocent spouse has the right to take back the first spouse any number of times they choose so long as neither or both remarry because only the second marriage can prevent reconciliation. Jesus told Peter to forgive unto 70x7. The man who marries the innocent wife of the first marriage causes the man who marries her while her adulterous first spouse still liveth according to the following words of Luke 16:18, "...and whoso marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery." Now my BIG question to ALL who read this is: "Can anyone come forward and show how that anyone can remarry a second time, especially the innocent party of a marriage ending in divorce on the grounds of adultery, and NOT HAVE Isaiah 8:20 condemn them as having no light in them for not speaking according to Luke 16:18?" I have asked this question so many times of people who flee to Matthew 19:9 to wrest the very meaning from it which both Luke 16:18 last part and Matthew 19:6 expressly forbid. If people want to condemn SDARM for taking the stand which Luke 16:18, last part makes so clear that I have yet to hear anyone openly challenge it, they need to realize that Isaiah 8:20 will accuse them right back as having no light in them, long before they could ever reach Matthew 19:9, just by not speaking according to Luke 16:18 which is the infallible Word of God, and in total Berean-like harmony with Romans 7:1-3 and Matthew 5:32.


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