Once Married Always Married

The guilty party policy

The following doctrine contends that only death breaks the marriage covenant, not adultery and not desertion. It is an attempt to expose the short comings of divorce apologetics that can be found in most protestant churches.

Every doctrine that justifies divorce and remarriage is based upon the 'exception clause' found in Matthew's gospel (5:32 and 19:9).

Matt. 5:32 ...whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery...
Matt. 19:9 ...Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery...

We are told that fornication (porneia in Greek) in the aforementioned 'exception clause' can be translated as any type of sexual sin, all potential reasons for divorce and remarriage. This interpretation always results in a guilty party and an innocent party, i.e. innocent party free to remarry and guilty party not free to remarry; this is the most popular interpretation of the 'exception clause' (generally speaking). There are so many variations of this policy that only God knows them all. Hence the term guilty-party-policy or statement-on-divorce-and-remarriage.

But it is a gross over simplification to put 100% blame on one person and 0% blame on the other, anyone who has been through a marriage breakdown knows that is an exaggeration. While it is fair to say that sexual perversion is definitely a reason for separation, it does not make the one become two. I am convinced that the 'exception clause' is referring to what Moses taught about fornication in Deut. 22:13-21. My reasons to follow.

The not guilty party policy

Any study of the Hebrew marriage customs and laws reveals that the groom pays for the bride with a dowry paid to the bride’s father (Gen. 34:12, Exod. 22:17) . Many examples can be found in the Old Testament of this, e.g. David could not afford the dowry for a king’s daughter (very expensive) (1Sam.18:25). No better example of this is than the groom Jesus paid for His bride, not with corruptible silver and gold but with His own blood, revealed as a dowry in this example.

Terms and conditions.
No try before buy.
Payment upfront in full before marriage.
One exception only, if the girl is not a virgin the deal could be called off. Hence the reason why Jesus said "except it be for fornication". This also reveals the importance of holiness: if we don’t maintain our chastity then we will be excluded from the marriage supper.

In my opinion, the best New Testament example of what Jesus meant by "except it be for fornication" is the case of Joseph and Mary. I'm sure you know the story how Mary was found with child before they were married and Joseph was going to put her away until the Angel of the Lord intervened. When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant he assumed she had been fornicating because he knew that he was not responsible for Mary's pregnancy. Therefore he was able to 'put away' his fiancée because of fornication. Notice that the Bible refers to Mary as Joseph's wife before they were married.
Luke 2:5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife,
Matt. 1:20 ... Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife...
The New Testament uses the word wife in these examples as fiancée; the same use can be applied to the exception clause: Whosoever shall put away his fiancée, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery. This topic is explored further in Various objections.

But in some cases the sin of fornication can only be discovered after the marriage has occurred, hence Deut. 22:13-21. If the 'exception clause' is interpreted in this way then Jesus effectively upheld the law of Moses and set an even higher standard for His Church. Sadly, this standard has been replaced by the guilty-party-policies of our modern churches. Any study on the Sermon on the Mount reveals that Jesus is teaching from the Old Testament and setting a higher standard for His followers; this is the point where the 'exception clause' first appears (Matt. 5:32) and is primarily for the Jews because Moses included it in their law. The Church seems to have forgotten that Jesus is Jewish and the Gospel is still for the Jews first.

Some would ask what about the innocent party? When it comes to marriage breakdown and divorce, the term innocent party is a myth. Admittedly, in many cases one party is the victim and the other party is the perpetrator, but neither can rightly be called innocent.

Summary

The 'exception clause' (Matt.5:32 & 19:9) only appears in Matthew's Gospel because Matthew wrote to the Jews and it must be understood in its Jewish context. I think the 'exception clause' would only apply to those men who were deceived into thinking their bride was a virgin.

The Church has re-interpreted the 'exception clause' to suit its own requirements and produced many different guilty-party-policies or Statements on divorce and remarriage. For a more comprehensive look at this topic I recommend a book. Holy Matrimony by D.E.T. Evenhuis. See the link, Holy Matrimony A pdf copy of the book can be downloaded from the Holy Matrimony site.