Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 1, No. 11 Page 19 November 1999

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles
By Louis Rushmore

Can Desertion
Precede Adultery?

I believe and teach only ONE reason for divorce.  However, when one talks of desertion not being scriptural grounds for remarriage, what is the meaning of desertion?  Most all who separate will remarry.  Especially is this so amongst the younger set.  If the deserted party remains pure, tries to reconcile the marriage, but fails and the partner does remarry, does the offended have a right to remarry? ~ Don T.  Guinn
In our efforts to be biblically correct in the face of liberties taken with God’s Word, even by members of the Lord’s church, we sometimes react with a narrowness that exceeds biblical prescription.  In my judgment, this is precisely what occurs sometimes regarding the scenario presented in the query above.  The question, essentially, is: “Can desertion precede adultery?”  In short, it is my understanding that the biblical answer is, “Yes.”

Like the querist, I too “believe and teach only ONE reason for divorce” and remarriage.  The reason is quite simple, of course.  That is what the New Testament, to which we are amenable and by which we will be judged, teaches (Matt. 19:9).  The apostle Paul did not alter or append what Jesus taught in Matthew 19.  Rather, Paul reinforced what Jesus taught and addressed additionally some aspects of marriage that Jesus did not address (1 Cor. 7).

Desertion is addressed by the apostle in 1 Corinthians 7:10-16.  The gist is that the Christian should not encourage divorce and should do everything to preserve the marriage, but one’s spouse (in that context, a non-Christian) may desert the child of God anyway. The separation of husband and wife leads to temptation to commit adultery (1 Cor. 7:2-5) for which, ordinarily, both spouses bear some responsibility (sin) for any subsequent adultery (Matt. 5:32).  However, in the case of the desertion of which Paul speaks, the unwilling party to the divorce is guiltless for any subsequent adultery the leaving party may practice as a result of temptation.

Still, the apostle Paul does not condone remarriage at this point, that is, desertion.  First Corinthians 7:11 enjoins, in the face of divorce or separation, only two possibilities: celibacy or reconciliation.  However, if and when the party who perpetrated the divorce or separation against the will of the faithful spouse subsequently commits adultery, the scenario is no longer one of merely desertion.  Then, not 1 Corinthians 7 but Matthew 19 is effective regarding the matter.

[I hasten to add that none of this permits a married couple to voluntarily separate, or for one to drive the other away, and then wait and see who falters and commits adultery first.  In this case, strictly speaking, there would be no innocent party.  Both would bear some responsibility (sin) for the adultery (Matt. 5:32).]

Some well-meaning brethren would object that the reason for the divorce or separation preceding any subsequent marriage was “desertion” and not “adultery.”  While the deserting party may have effectively divorced himself from his spouse, after which he later committed adultery, the innocent party to the adultery is the one who then becomes active in the application of Matthew 19 when he or she puts the offending spouse away for adultery.  Besides, the act of desertion and adultery may often essentially be simultaneous activities (unless one proposes that Matthew 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 can only be harmonized if, for instance, a man brings his secretary to his home to commit adultery with her before he runs off with her and deserts his family).

I believe the foregoing correctly and biblically answers the question as presented and anticipates further questions regarding my response.  However, should anyone find him or herself in similar circumstances and harbor reservations regarding the matter, it is always safe to adopt a posture that cannot be wrong, reverting back to 1 Corinthians 7:11, celibacy in the absence of the ability to reconcile a marriage where the deserting party has married another (committed adultery).  Others, I would hope, survey the biblical evidence as objectively as possible and make no hasty or heated contention.

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