Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 28, 1970

Questions And Answers

Send All Questions To: Eugene Britnell, P.O. Box 3012, Little Rock, Arkansas 72203

From Winston, Oregon:

"I know you are a very busy man, but also know you want to teach the gospel, so I hope you will help me learn the truth concerning the following questions:

1. May a Christian put away his wife on the grounds of cruel and inhuman treatment when fornication isn't involved and not sin?

2. Is it a sin to get a divorce on those grounds — period?

3. So long as there was no remarriage, would it be right?

4. Is cohabitation sinful before a divorce is final?

5. In the case where a divorce is filed for on the grounds of cruel and inhuman treatment with no fornication involved, are the steps outlined in Matt. 18:15-20 applicable?

6. Ought a person who obtained a divorce other than for fornication be disfellowshipped?

7. May a Christian file for a separation and separate support? This filing is not for a divorce or with the intention or desire to remarry."

I have learned from experience that it is difficult to answer some questions, especially those dealing with marital problems, without knowing all of the facts and circumstances involved. In such cases, one can deal only with general principles.

1. Yes, I think that a Christian may separate from a companion when it is impossible to live a normal, Christian life with such a person — even when adultery is not involved. See I Corinthians 7:13-16.

2. Yes, I think that it is. Incompatibility is not a scriptural reason for divorce. When a Christian must leave or put away a companion with whom it is impossible to live, I do not recommend divorce. Since neither is free to remarry, why is a divorce necessary? Without it, each party has a safeguard against remarriage. Also, by not divorcing, the guilty party may in time repent and a reconciliation be effected.

3. No. This I explained in number two.

4. No, I don't think that cohabitation would be sinful so long as they are husband and wife — even though they might not get along normally. In fact, I am convinced that improper relations is often the cause of marital problems. Many husbands and wives need to give careful consideration to the teaching of I Corinthians 7:2-5.

5. Yes, I think so. Why not? If the person who so mistreats a companion is a Christian, he or she should be disciplined. If the person who files for a divorce has not been mistreated to the point of making it impossible to live the life of a Christian, then that person is wrong in such action and should be treated accordingly.

6. Yes, I think so and I have known of it being done. In view of the marriage vows, such a one becomes a liar and fails to honor his or her responsibility. "Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay" (Eccles. 5:5). Please understand that I am not speaking of one who must separate because of the conditions described in I Corinthians 7:13-16; I am speaking of one who divorces a companion when adultery is not the cause of divorce (Matt. 19:9). Unless it is impossible for one to live a righteous life with a companion, then the teaching of I Corinthians 7:10, 11 and Matthew 19:6 is binding and one who disregards this is unworthy of the fellowship of the saints.

7. If a Christian cannot live with his or her companion, and is in need of and entitled to support from the companion, I see nothing wrong in requesting or even demanding such support.

Perhaps it would be good to summarize the teaching of the Bible concerning marriage, divorce and separations. Once two people are married in God's sight, there are only three reasons why they may separate: 1. Death (Rom. 7:3). 2. Adultery (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). 3. Inability to live with an unbeliever or one who makes it impossible for one to live and develop as a Christian should (I Cor. 7:15). In case of death, the survivor is free to marry again; in case of adultery, the innocent party who put away the companion for that reason is free to remarry; in number three I don't believe that either party is free to marry with God's approval.

From Louisville, Kentucky:

"I'm glad you're writing for the Guardian, and especially that you have a regular place in that journal.

"I do believe that I either missed your point or disagreed with your answer (April 9th issue) on spiritual death. I have been under the impression that our Lord did die spiritually, not for his own sins but for ours, and this is the reason that the Father withdrew from him while he was upon the cross (Matt. 27:46; Psalm 22:1, 2, 3, 24).

"Spiritual death is effected by sin — Isa. 59:2 — as you made clear. But you said, 'All need not die spiritually.' But what of Romans 3:23? Doesn't one have to die spiritually (be a sinner) before he can be born the second time?

"These are my thoughts and I would appreciate your consideration of them."

Our misunderstanding could well be a matter of semantics. I doubt if my friend and I differ on this point if we each understand what the other means.

The natural death, or physical death, is the result of disobedience to natural or physical laws. Spiritual death results from the transgression of God's spiritual laws. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." (Ezek. 18:4) "The wages of sin is death." (Rom. 6:23) So, death comes because of transgression of law. The contrast of the two is shown in the teaching of Jesus: "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body to hell" (Matt. 10:28). Destruction of the body results in physical death, but the separation of the soul from God is spiritual death.

The enemies of Jesus were able to put the physical man to death; but were not able to harm the spiritual. Only sin of the individual could do that, but Jesus had no sin (I Pet. 2:22). Jesus died for us, but he was never dead toward God, which is spiritual death.

Matthew 27:46 is a difficult passage. In what sense, and to what extent, did God forsake Christ? Jesus did experience some things which the sinner will experience. He tasted of the separation from God which the sinner will suffer eternally.

When I said that "all need not die spiritually," I was using the term in contrast with physical death which all are to experience. I certainly believe that all responsible people who have not obeyed the gospel of Christ are dead spiritually. But they can obey the gospel and thereby avoid spiritual death. I meant that man need not suffer spiritual death eternally.

I referred to John 11:26. In this statement, Jesus meant that the believer shall never die in the sense in which death had been hitherto regarded in his conversation with Mary and Martha. The faith and life are regarded as equivalent terms, because they are inseparably joined together. To the Christian, death is only a sleep. It is the close of the day of earthly toil. It is the hushing and silencing of the many harsh and jarring voices of care, anxiety, and restlessness. It is the soothing of sorrow and trouble. It is looked for and welcomed, when the due time comes.