Analysis of Bobby Holmes Lesson on Marriage and Divorce: What is (are) the lawful cause(s) for divorce? C. Kelly Wilson December 2, 2006
This article examines brother Bobby Holme's contention that an individual can be prevented from serving God by their mate and can thus divorce their mateIn this article, quotes from brethren are in maroon (italic and bold), scriptures are in red, and regular text is in blue. On quotes from brethren, the footnotes are hyperlinked to the document that contains the quote
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Important Background

On June 26, 2005, brother Bobby Holmes taught a lesson entitled Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage at the Northside church of Christ in Mansfield, TX, which teaching I witnessed. Brother Holmes wanted to ensure that all were aware of the doctrine that he was teaching:

"...I have two reasons or purposes in presenting this lesson. Number one and foremost is to present to you what the word of God says and to make it clear to you so that we can all understand exactly what God says on the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. The second reason is that I might go on record and I want it on record I want it on tape what I believe the scriptures teach on the subject that has been announced. I don't want anyone doubting what I believe about these things, not that what I believe is going to determine what is truth or error, but I want people to understand and I want it recorded as to what Bobby Holmes believes the scriptures teach..." 1

The lesson was the culmination of a slow, inexorable change in the doctrine that brother Holmes used to teach. I met with brother Holmes for 3 weeks, prior to his lesson on June 26, in an effort to reason with him concerning the doctrine he was ascribing to, but to no avail.

On Wednesday June 29, 2005, I sent brother Holmes an email voicing my objection to the doctrine that he had taught and my desire, since a private study had yielded no fruit, to have an open, public discourse with him on this subject in a format of his choosing; he refused. That same evening, in an impromptu business meeting with the men of the congregation, I offered to have a public discourse with brother Holmes again, but again he refused.

Efforts by several faithful brethren, including gospel preachers and elders, have not deterred brother Holmes in his determination to press the doctrine. This article will be one of two articles examining the doctrine that brother Holmes has adopted relating to the bible teaching on marriage and divorce.

This article will examine brother Holmes contentions about the cause(s) of a lawful divorce and will deal with the following questions:

  • Does the Lord's one exception of fornication in Matt. 19:9 concern only divorce and remarriage?
  • Does God's word contain general rules and absolute rules?
  • Does I Corinthians 7:11 prove an exception to God's plain command prohibiting divorce?
  • Do the two constraints of I Cor. 7:11 constitute an equally viable choice?
  • Can a child of God be prevented from serving God?
  • Does Luke 18:29 authorize divorce for the sake of the Kingdom?

1"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <http:pillaroftruthmagazine.org.> p.1

There is One Lawful Cause for Divorce

The following doctrines were proposed in Bobby's lesson:

  • He reasoned that God has certain commandments that may be regarded as general and not absolute in nature because certain situations may require a violation of that command. As proof texts, he offered 1 Cor. 14:34 concerning women keeping silent in the churches and Eph. 5:24 concerning women obeying their husbands in all things. Similarly, he then tries to establish that while I Cor. 7:10 is a command not to divorce, it is a general rule, and that I Cor. 7:11 is an exception to that command because God gives the circumstances one must abide in if they divorce their mate.
  • Using this logic of general rules, he postulates the following conclusions: God's Law of divorce and remarriage is absolute in that no one can remarry unless they divorced their mate for the cause of fornication However, God's Law of divorce only is relative. In other words, though God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16), He has exceptions other than fornication by which an individual may obtain a divorce and not sin.
  • Using his conclusion that I Cor. 7:11 contains the exception to the command of God prohibiting divorce, he then speculates that a mate may be prevented from serving God under certain circumstances, such as abuse or extreme duress. Thus, using his theory of God's general rule of divorce only (without remarriage) an individual can divorce their mate lawfully for the cause of not being able to serve God, as long as remarriage is not under consideration. Although Brother Holmes did not use this argumentation in his lesson, many others are appealing to Luke 18:29 as a proof-text that God will authorize a lawful divorce "...for the sake of the kingdom of God..."

Matthew 19 Forbids Divorce Except For Fornication

Brother Holmes has concluded that God's one exception, fornication stated in Matt. 19:9 applies only to divorce and remarriage, not just divorce, as the following quotes illustrate:

"...Now then, marriage God including divorce and remarriage is it is absolute without any exceptions. I want to drive that point home. God's marriage law including divorce and remarriage is absolute without any exceptions. Fornication is the only thing that the Lord gave. It is not a general rule. It is the rule..."1

"...There is only one reason that God gives for divorce and remarriage and that is fornication..." 2

"...In our conclusion, the intent of this lesson is not to find another reason for divorce and remarriage. It is not, for there are none other than what the Lord has given..." 3

Does the context of Matt. 19:3-9 concur with this?


1"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <http:pillaroftruthmagazine.org.> p.8

2"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <http:pillaroftruthmagazine.org.> p.12

2"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <http:pillaroftruthmagazine.org.> p.14

  • The Pharisees tested Jesus by asking whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any cause

    "...The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason..?'" Matthew 19:3 (NKJV)

  • What was the Lord's answer?

    "...And He answered and said to them, 'Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' 5and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? 6So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate...'" Matthew 19:3-6 (NKJV)

  • Using the example of how God created them male and female in the beginning illustrating His design for the home, Jesus answers their question comprehensively: No, it is not lawful for you to divorce your wives for just any reason ; no remarriage is involved in the context thus far. Given the fact that God had not allowed divorce from the beginning and what God had joined together, men were not to separate (divorce), the Pharisees then asked why Moses had given them a commandment to divorce their wives?

    "...They said to Him, 'Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?' 8He said to them, 'Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so...'" Matthew 19:7-8 (NKJV)

  • The context is inescapably obvious that the only question under consideration up to this point in the discussion was concerning divorce, not remarriage. Jesus then states His teaching which will change the Law of Moses and prohibit that which the Law had previously allowed due to their hard hearts, divorce. To further illustrate this new Law, the Lord Jesus shows the consequences of a remarriage after an unlawful divorce, both on the violator (the one who divorced his mate) and on the victim (the one divorced):

    "'...And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery...'" Matthew 19:9 (NKJV)

  • It is imperative to point out that even when Jesus gives this instruction about a resulting adulterous remarriage, He makes it clear that an adulterous remarriage occurs because of (is a consequence of) an unlawful divorce . Considering the conclusions from the context:
    • Mosaic Law permitted divorce for some reasons because of hard hearts and abuses of God's permission followed (Mal. 2:13-16), even leading the Pharisees to ask the Lord if they could divorce their wives for just any reason
    • Jesus makes it clear that "...from the beginning, it [divorce] was not so..." (v.8) [my emphasis], which harmonizes perfectly with His answer to the Pharisees' question in v.3 about whether it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause (no remarriage under consideration). Jesus contextually answers the question No and concluded with the warning "...what God has joined together, let not man separate..." (v.6)
    • Since the Pharisees' question addressed divorce only , and the Lord returned an answer of No , summarized by: "...therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate..." (v.6), whoever divorces their mate for a cause other than fornication transgresses God's command given in v.6. God's word clearly teaches that when we transgress His law, we sin (I Jn. 3:4)
    • Henceforth, the Lord Jesus' teaching is that whoever divorces their mate for any cause other than fornication commits sin. A resulting remarriage following an unlawful divorce will result in adultery.

Brother Holmes' predication, God's absolute rule that divorce and remarriage is prohibited for any cause other than fornication , is in error. God's rule is that one is prohibited from divorcing their mate for any cause other than fornication, whether remarriage is under consideration or not.

As well, not only are there other plain prohibitions against divorce with no remarriage under consideration (I Cor. 7:10-11), but also consider God's stated culpability on the one who divorces their mate unlawfully:

"'...Furthermore it has been said, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce." 32But 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...'" Matthew 5:31-32 (NKJV)

Thus, one who divorces their mate unlawfully not only violates God's direct command, but also becomes culpable for putting their mate, whom they sinned against, in a vulnerable position to sin.

God's Word Is To Be Taken As a Whole, Not as "Rules" and Then "Exceptions to Rules"

Brother Holmes proposed that God has some general commandments that may require violation under certain circumstances. He then tries to tie this principle to the teaching on marriage and divorce.

Consider the following quote about Eph. 5: 24 ( "...Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything..."):

"...That's a command. Now is that a general rule or is that the absolute rule? Think about. This is a command can this command contain any exceptions? Look with me, what if the husband forbids her to attend services. Must she obey him in everything...?" 1

He ties in I Cor. 14:34 using this same principle ( "...Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says..." ):

"...Is that a command that is absolute or are there some exceptions...? Well she can sing therefore there is an exception. Can she confess Christ and become a Christian, if so then there is an exception. Can she confess her sins as an erring child of God as we have had a number of women come forward in this congregation to confess the error of their way? Can she do so? If she can then there is an exception to the command. We must understand this in the same light as we understand Eph. 4:24. Obey your husbands in everything..."2

He then concludes that in the same way that these passages establish exceptions to God's Law, there is also an exception to God's Law of divorce established in I Cor. 7:10 ("...Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband..."):

"...What is my point, brethren? It is that 1 Cor. 7:10 is not an absolute regarding the sending away or divorce though God says he hates it..."3

He positively states then that these examples will require the child of God to violate God's word in some circumstances:

"...Our bondage is to Jesus Christ, he is our master. And it doesn't make any difference what man may say to us. If a husband says you can't go to church, you can't take the children to church you are going to go with me to a denomination because I think the Baptist church is the right place to be and you are going to go with me. Does she have to obey her husband in that, verily nay. Is she violating what God says? Yes . Is she sinning? No, because there is an exception there. And we understand that exception..." [my emphasis] 4

The quote immediately above shows the problematic nature of this doctrine and reasoning, as God's Word teaches that when we transgress His Law, we sin (I Jn. 3:4). There is no passage of scripture that teaches we can violate God's Word, as Brother Holmes contends that we must on certain occasions, without committing sin, and we are further instructed:

"...For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all..." James 2:10 (NKJV)


1"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <http:pillaroftruthmagazine.org.> p.11

2"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <http:pillaroftruthmagazine.org.> p.12

3"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <http:pillaroftruthmagazine.org.> p.12

4"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <http:pillaroftruthmagazine.org.> p.12

Before I address the bible principles involved, a quick note must be said about the context of I Cor. 14:34, which brother Holmes contended proves an exception to God's Law of women keeping silent in the church. The context of this passage is established by v.26:

"...How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification..."

The apostle then gives some specific instructions about how the miraculous gifts are to be practiced in the edification of the assembly. It is within this context that the instruction of v.34 is given:

"...Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says..."

The context is transparently clear: women are not to exercise authority in the edification of the assembly, as we have a similar instruction in I Tim. 2:12. Thus, there is absolutely no exception in God's Word when a woman confesses sin, sings, or makes the good confession of Christ as Lord, and no violation of God's command has occurred, as Brother Holmes contends.

In a larger context, the principle Brother Holmes proposed concerning exceptions in God's Law that would require the child of God to violate God's Law is refuted by scripture. Consider the following:

"'...Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?' 37Jesus said to him, '"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." 38This is the first and great commandment...'" Matthew 22:36-38 (NKJV) [my emphasis]

As well, the Lord Jesus tells us what our disposition must be in our obedience to Him:

"...Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, 26"If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple..." Luke 14:25-27 (NKJV)

This simple, over-arching principle of scripture establishes that our service and obedience is always to God, first and foremost. All other principles are under that principle. Thus, using Eph. 5:24 as an example, if the husband (or wife) attempts to coerce their believing mate into sin, the wife or husband does not violate God's command in this verse by refusing to partake, neither is there an exception to God's Law that must be brought to bear in order to keep God's Word. The umbrella principle of scripture that establishes obedience to God first dictates what to do in these circumstances. A simple way to visualize this concept is the idea of a set and subset. Within the set (the umbrella principle) of Matt. 22:37 ("'...You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind...'"), we have the subset of passages such as Eph. 5:24 and I Pet. 2:13-14 (submitting to the earthly authorities) and others, which fall under that principle (Acts 5:29). Thus, contrary to Bobby's contention that there are exceptions to God's word that require occasional violation of His Word, God's Word harmonizes perfectly with no exceptions. As well, Bobby's theory of general rules and absolute rules is also contradicted by the context of scripture, as we simply will not find any such concept taught, but rather we will find instructions from the Holy Sprit to observe all that God has taught:

"...And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you..." Matthew 28:18-20 (NKJV) [my emphasis]

1 Corinthians 7:10-11 Gives No Exception to God's Divorce Laws

Consider the following quotes from brother Holmes lesson concerning these so-called exceptions:

"...The Holy Spirit did not put what the exception might be and neither will I. But clearly he understood that there could be circumstances where divorce that God hates might happen and when and if it does, he states clearly what is to be done she is to remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband..."1

"...God has placed an exception under certain cases. Again, I say don't misunderstand me. I am not talking about a right to remarry at all. I am talking about the right to get out of a situation where you can not serve God. No divorce can be justified for frivolous things. And I think brethren have had good intentions, honest hearts, in looking at, well if you can just divorce for any reason then if you don't like the way your wife's perfume smells, you can just divorce her. No, for frivolous things are not under consideration. What can be the exception? I don't know. It has to be something has to be something that the word of God says prevents you from serving God. Whether it is a command from your husband or abuse or whatever it might be. It has to be something that prevents you from serving the master. Just like the command to obey your husband in everything, you don't have to do that if it keeps you from serving the master..." [my emphasis]2

"...Many good intended brethren have condemned people to hell because they filed for divorce based on a misunderstanding of what God says. I am not talking about re-marriage. I am talking about yes God hates divorce. We stated that over and over again. But sometimes man is placed in a position where he divorces anyway and Jesus gives him that right even though God hates it..." [my emphasis]3

The bolded text in the above quotes shows a disturbing propensity to offer speculation, completely lacking any scriptural support. For instance:

  • He contends that God gives one the "...right to get out of a situation where you can not serve God..." and divorce their mate. Where in scripture does God give that right? No bible support is offered.
  • He contends that the cause must be "...something that the word of God says prevents you from serving God..." but where, as he contends, does God say that you can be prevented from serving Him, and thus, can subsequently seek a divorce for this cause? No bible support is offered.
  • He contends that divorce is not authorized in all cases: "...No, for frivolous things are not under consideration..." Again, what are the bible definitions of these so-called frivolous items that he speaks of? Conversely, what are the bible definitions of non-frivolous items? Where does God define such things? No bible support is offered.
  • Finally, he contends: "...but sometimes man is placed in a position where he divorces anyway and Jesus gives him that right even though God hates it..." Where does Jesus give this right to "...divorce anyway..." as he contends? Again, no bible support is offered.

1"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <http:pillaroftruthmagazine.org.> p.12

2"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <http:pillaroftruthmagazine.org.> p.13

3"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <http:pillaroftruthmagazine.org.> p.13

The only attempt to use scripture to validate his position of an exception to God’s Law prohibiting divorce is contained in I Cor. 7:10-11. His position, based on the first quote on page 6, is essentially as follows:

  • He contends that although God hates divorce (and prohibits it) as stated in I Cor. 7:10, God gives the constraints on the woman if she does divorce in v.11
  • Since God gives the constraints bound on the woman in v.11, this fact constitutes an exception and mitigates the divorce itself

The context of I Corinthians 7 is dealing with some scriptural questions that the brethren there were contemplating (v.1). One of these items involved some circumstances related to the Lord’s teaching involving the marriage relationship and what to do in the circumstance of an unlawful divorce. In I Cor. 7:10, Paul states:

"...Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband..." [my emphasis]

Paul is simply restating and reminding the Corinthian brethren about the Lord’s command prohibiting divorce. When Paul states "...not I, but the Lord..." he is simply stating that the Lord Jesus has already dealt with this teaching, and where has he dealt with it? He dealt with it in Matt. 19, Matt. 5, Mk. 10, and other passages.

The latter half of I Cor. 7:11 simply give the same plain prohibition to the husband:

"...And a husband is not to divorce his wife..."

Brother Holmes correctly concluded that v.10 is a command prohibiting divorce, but then suggests that v.11 constitutes an exception to God’s command because God gives the constraints imposed upon the one who disregards God’s plain prohibition of divorce:

"...But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife..."

Does the scripture teach that I Cor. 7:11 is an exception to I Cor. 7:10?

In Paul’s hypothetical example in I Cor 7:10-11, the Lord (not Paul) has already instructed that an individual is not to divorce their mate. If they do divorce their mate, in violation of the command of v.10, they have transgressed God’s Law and sinned, as God instructs that sin is transgression of His Law (I Jn. 3:4). It is utterly absurd, not to mention blasphemous, to insinuate that God will give a prohibition of an action in one verse and then overturn that prohibition in another verse. The woman who departs from her husband in violation of the command of v.10 has sinned and must repent.

As well, consider the following passage, which is worded similarly to I Cor. 7:10-11:

"...My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous..." 1 John 2:1 (NKJV) [my emphasis]

In this passage, the Holy Spirit instructs us that we are to avoid sin and gives the comfort that we can turn back to God, if we do sin. Are we then to conclude that we do not violate the command to avoid sin and that sin is even permissible, since "...we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous..?" Are we then to similarly conclude that the woman in the hypothetical case of I Cor. 7:11 does not sin when she violates God’s command in v.10, since she is constrained to remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband?

When we transgress God’s Law sin occurs (I Jn. 3:4). Repentance is necessary to obtain Almighty God’s forgiveness, or eternal condemnation awaits the guilty (Lk. 13:3, I Cor. 6:9-10). Thus, to conclude that God gives a direct command prohibiting divorce in v.10 and then authorizes violating that command (the Lord’s one exception of fornication excluded) in v.11 is false.

Repentance is Required in the Circumstances of 1 Cor. 7:11

Although brother Holmes did not argue this in his lesson on June 26, 2005, many have concluded that the constraints placed upon the woman in I Cor. 7:11 constitute an equally viable choice. In other words, the woman could simply choose which option to take, either remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband.

Repentance demands that the Christian not only confess their wrong and pray to God (I Jn. 1:9; Acts 8:22), but also make restitution whenever and wherever possible.

Consider the following passages that establish this principle of restitution:

"...People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy himself when he is starving. 31Yet when he is found, he must restore sevenfold; He may have to give up all the substance of his house..." Proverbs 6:30-31 (NKJV) [my emphasis]

This passage demonstrates the necessity of restitution. While we recognize that the Law of Moses gave specific instructions about restitution (e.g. Ex. 22:6), the above passage from the book of Proverbs teaches God’s eternal principle on this subject. The Lord Jesus praised righteous Zacchaeus because of his godly attitude toward sin and restitution:

"...So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. 7But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, 'He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.' 8Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, 'Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.' 9And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham...'" Luke 19:6-9 (NKJV) [my emphasis]

Thus, given the previous bible concepts, the verse in I Cor. 7:11, far from mitigating an exception to God’s prohibition of divorce, teaches that when sin has occurred in violation of God’s command (v.10), restitution must be attempted ("...be reconciled to her husband..."). If one cannot restore what they have wronged, then they must remain unmarried. As well, consider what the Spirit records about the Corinthian brethren’s righteous attitude toward sin and repentance:

"...Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter..." 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 (NKJV) [my emphasis]

Given the plainly revealed bible principles of repentance and restitution, consider the following sins committed when someone divorces their mate for a cause other than fornication:

  • They violate God’s prohibition, His direct command (Mt. 19:6, 9, I Cor. 7:10)
  • They place their mate in a position of vulnerability to sin (Matt. 5:31-32) and defraud them of their due affection (I Cor. 7:5)
  • They separate what God has joined together (Matt. 19:6)

Can someone who defies God’s Word concerning divorce and then arrogantly refuses to attempt to restore their wrong against God and their mate argue that they have godly sorrow, zeal, and a vehement desire to clear themselves?

Thus, we have the two constraints, not options, given to the violator of God’s command (the woman in the hypothetical scenario) of I Cor. 7:10-11:

  • God’s Word teaches that when we transgress God’s Law, we sin (I Jn. 3:4). The woman is commanded not to depart from her husband. If she does, she transgresses the command of the Lord and sins.
  • In accordance with God’s teaching concerning restitution, she must try to be reconciled to her husband, in an attempt to right her wrong.
  • If that effort is untenable due to her husband’s unwillingness to receive her back, then she must live acceptably before God as an unmarried person.

Nothing and Nobody Can Prevent a Child of God From Living Faithfully

Brother Holmes contended that divorce is permitted for items that "...the word of God says prevents you from serving God. Whether it is a command from your husband or abuse or whatever it might be. It has to be something that prevents you from serving the master..." 1 and although he did not argue this way in his lesson, many have concluded that the word leave in Luke 18:29 constitutes authorization from the Lord to divorce your mate for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

His position on this point and the arguments using Luke 18:29 can be summarized as follows:

  • God’s Word teaches us that there may be circumstances whereby someone is prevented from serving God although he offers no scriptural proof of this
  • Based on this reasoning, God will approve of a divorce to remove someone from this supposed situation of being prevented from serving God
  • Many are using Luke 18:29 ("...So He said to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God...'" [my emphasis]), many are reasoning that someone may divorce their mate if there mate if their marriage keeps them from serving God.

What does God teach?

Service to God, according to God’s Word, demands and is dependent upon personal choice and personal choice only, not on anyone else’s actions or decisions:

"'...He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters...'" Luke 11:23 (NKJV) [my emphasis]

"...For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad..." 2 Corinthians 5:10 (NKJV) [my emphasis]

The Holy Spirit affirms that if we follow the Lord, we will pay the price:

"'...Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household...''" Matthew 10:34-36 (NKJV)

"...Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution..." 2 Timothy 3:12 (NKJV)

The scripture is replete with passages exhorting the Christian to patiently, even joyfully, endure trials and suffering:

"...My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience..." James 1:2-3 (NKJV)

In the midst of giving exhortations to his apostles, the Lord Jesus shows the fate and ultimate victory of those who obey to the end, even in the face of persecutions by those closest to them:

"'...Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved...'" Matthew 10:21-22 (NKJV)


1"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <http:pillaroftruthmagazine.org.> p.1

In the book of Revelation, the Lord gives instructions for patient endurance to the saints at Smyrna:

"...Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life..." Revelation 2:10 (NKJV)

Finally, does the Spirit say we can be separated from the love of God in Christ in His service?

"...What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written:

"For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter."

37Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord..." Romans 8:31-39 (NKJV) [my emphasis]

The only way that anyone can fall from God’s love and be prevented from serving Him is by disobeying His Word (I Jn. 2:3-5), which is contingent only upon our personal choice:

"...He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him..." John 14:21 (NKJV)

The above passages conclude irrefutably that there is no thing and no one that can separate us from the love of God in Christ and prevent us from serving Him. We each must individually choose to serve Him (Matt. 6:24), we each must patiently endure the certain trials and sufferings (Rev. 2:10). If we are faithful and obedient (Jn. 14:21, I Jn. 2:5), God will strengthen, protect, and bring us to victory (Heb 13:5-6, I Pet. 5:10). Our service to God is based completely and exclusively on our decisions, and our decisions alone. In no way does God teach that our ability to serve Him is contingent upon anyone else.

The apostle Paul ended his life in prison (II Tim. 4) preparing to be put to death (II Tim. 4:6) He was separated from beloved brethren (II Tim. 4:11), suffering the anguish of betrayal, even by those who were supposed to be children of God (II Tim. 4:10, 14). He was certainly not able to move around and preach freely and it is reasonable to assume that he was often prevented from assembling with the saints. Was he prevented from serving God? Here is what the Spirit recorded concerning Paul’s confidence in the midst of all these hindrances:

"...For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing..." 2 Timothy 4:6-8 (NKJV)

The proposition then that someone, even your mate, can prevent you from serving God is flatly and overwhelmingly refuted by scripture. Thus, absolutely no justification that one can divorce on the grounds of being prevented from serving God can be substantiated.

Luke 18:29 Provides No Authority For Divorce

With this scriptural context in mind, what does the context of Luke 18:18-29 teach? Does it teach that one can, even should, divorce their mate for the sake of the Kingdom of God?

When we examine any passage of scripture and reach a conclusion, we must first ensure:

  • The immediate context of the verse harmonizes with the conclusion. If any exception is given, the Lord Himself must give it
  • The wider context of the New Testament harmonizes with the conclusion. For instance, when religious people attempt to justify their practice of using instruments of music, they often appeal to the examples of music worship in the Old Testament. However, they fail to consider the wider context that God has done away with the Mosaic Law (Heb. 8:13) and that our only instruction in the New Testament concerning music worship involves singing only (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16)
  • The conclusion does not violate another commandment of the Lord in the New Testament or an eternal bible principle, since God is not the author of confusion (I Cor. 14:33), it is impossible for Him to lie (Heb. 6:18), and we are instructed to keep all the Lord has taught (Matt. 28:18-20)
  • The scripture itself affirms these techniques. For instance, when the Lord Jesus was tempted by Satan (Matt. 4:1-11), the devil quoted scriptures but then violated the larger context of those teachings via his application, and while we certainly recognize that Satan’s motives were not honorable, the technique to defeat the false teaching he was advocating was the same: the context of God’s Word, immediate and holistic, must be brought to bear in considering whether a conclusion is in accord with bible teaching, and any conclusion we may reach must be put to the same test of scripture.

Considering the context of Luke 18:

A certain ruler came to Jesus asking what he needed to do to inherit eternal life (v.18). Jesus told him to keep the commandments of Moses (which he was living under), which the ruler affirmed that he had kept since his youth (v.19-21). Jesus, being God in the flesh and knowing all things (Jn. 16:30), knew this ruler’s heart and that it was his love of his possessions that was going to hinder his service. Hence, the Lord instructs him to go and sell his possessions to test him, and the ruler went away sorrowful (v.22-24). The Lord then teaches that it will be easier "...for a camel to go through the eye of a needle..." than for those who are rich to enter the Kingdom of God (v.24) because, as the young ruler was unwilling to do, they will not place their service to God above their love of riches. Those who heard wondered then who could be saved, which the Lord affirmed is impossible with man but possible with God (v.26-27).

Then Peter makes the following statement in v.28, followed by the Lord’s response:

"...Then Peter said, 'See, we have left all and followed You.' 29So He said to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life...'" Luke 18:28-30 (NKJV) [my emphasis]

The context makes it clear that whatever the word left means in v.29, Peter and the other apostles had done just this; they had left all. As a point of fact, some manuscripts render the word all as our own, thus the passage could also be rendered: "'...See, we have left our own and followed You...'"

When Peter made this statement, we know for certain that at least he and perhaps some of the other apostles were married (I Cor. 9:5). Matt. 8:15 affirms that the Lord came and healed Peter’s mother-in-law. As well, we know that Peter remained married, as he later instructed elders, himself being a fellow elder (I Pet. 5:1), to which he would have had to meet the qualification of "...the husband of one wife..." (I Tim. 3:2). As well, Peter and some of the apostles took along their wives on some of their preaching responsibilities (I Cor. 9:5, Peter is referred to as Cephas [see Jn. 1:42]).

While the apostles who had left all for the Kingdom of God certainly made extraordinary sacrifices in leaving their secular livelihoods, putting themselves and their families at risk, and finally giving their lives in submitting all to God’s service, the immediate context will not permit us to conclude that divorcing their mates was a part of the definition of the word left in Luke 18:29, as the apostles did not do this, though, by their own words affirmed by the Lord Jesus, they had left all.

As well, however, consider the context of other companion passages in which the Lord taught the same concept:

"...Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, 26'If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple 33So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple...'" Luke 14:25-27, 33 (NKJV) [my emphasis]

This passage in Luke 14 helps shed light on the context of Luke 18: hating your wife, children, mother, father, brothers, sisters, and forsaking all you have was not optional or conditional, it was commanded. Someone who would not do this could not be the Lord’s disciple. Is the Lord teaching actual hatred and despising of our families? Similarly the Lord only commended those who had left all in Luke 18:29 as he ultimately promised them eternal life. Would those who refused to leave all have obtained eternal life?

The Holy Spirit often uses hyperbole, or an extreme exaggeration, to illustrate a principle. For instance, Jesus used this technique in Luke 18:25 and Mark 10:25 ("...it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle...") to illustrate how difficult it would be for those with worldly riches to love the Lord more than their possessions. The Lord uses this same technique in Luke 18:27-29, Mk. 10:27-29, and in the above passage in Luke 14, to illustrate the following principle: service to God must take precedence over all things.

Thus, the wider context will not permit us to conclude that in Luke 18:29 the word left means or implies divorce, any more than it would mean or imply forsaking our responsibilities to our children or parents, but rather our allegiance to any person, place, or thing must be subjugated to our service to the Lord.

Does the conclusion (Luke 18:29 teaches that one can divorce their mate for the sake of the Kingdom) harmonize with the wider context of scripture? What disposition ought we to have toward those mates who do not obey the word?

"...Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, 2when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear..." 1 Peter 3:1-2 (NKJV) [my emphasis]

In this passage, the unbelieving husband would certainly not be assisting in the wives’ service to the Lord ("...do not obey the word..."), and yet no command or permission to divorce their mate was forthcoming for the sake of the Kingdom, but rather a command to submission and presenting a godly example with fear.

Finally, scripture tells us what our command is concerning divorce toward our unbelieving mate:

"...But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. 13And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. 14For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. 15But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace..." 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 (NKJV)

Does the conclusion (Luke 18:29 teaches that one can divorce their mate for the sake of the Kingdom) not violate any other bible concept or principle?

God forbids anyone from divorcing their mate, save for the cause of their mate’s fornication (Matt. 19:9; Matt. 5:31-32) and this command is repeated in I Cor. 7:10-11, 12-13. However, God recognizes that an unbeliever will likely not regard God’s word, and in the event that the believing mates’ service to God becomes distasteful to them, the unbeliever may depart. We recognize, however, that even the unbeliever will be judged by the Law of Christ (Jn. 12:48), and they do sin when they depart from their mate for a cause short of fornication as they violate the command of the Lord (I Cor. 7:10-11), but the believing, wronged mate is not responsible for this.

Thus, Luke 18:29 does not give authorization to divorce one’s mate for the sake of the Kingdom, as it does not harmonize with the immediate context, does not harmonize with the wider context of scripture, and violates God’s plain prohibitions concerning divorce.

Thus, the false conclusions brother Holmes has advocated on the lawful cause(s) of divorce and the misuse of Luke 18:29 can be summarized as follows:

  • He asserted that the Lord Jesus one stated exception in Matt. 19:9, fornication, applies only to divorce and remarriage, not divorce only. Scripture contradicts this as the context of Matt. 19 shows that divorce, previously allowed in Moses’ Law, would subsequently be prohibited in Christ’s Law, and divorce is prohibited, saving for the cause of fornication. When we transgress God’s Law as stated in Matt. 19:6 ("...therefore what God has joined together let not man separate...") or anywhere else, we sin (I Jn. 3:4). The consequence of a remarriage following an unlawful divorce results in adultery.
  • He contended that God has general and absolute rules, and that God has exceptions to His Law that will occasionally cause the Christian to violate God’s Law. However, the scripture establishes that we are to observe all that God has taught (Matt. 28:18-20), and that the umbrella principle of God’s word is to love and serve Him first (Matt. 22:37). Thus, every other principle such as wives obeying their husbands in all things (Eph. 5:24) or submitting to the earthly authorities (Rom. 13:1-2) are under this principle. Thus, the scripture does not teach that we must violate God’s word on occasion to keep it, but that God’s commandments harmonize perfectly.
  • He asserted that I Cor. 7:11 constitutes an exception to God’s plain prohibition to divorce in v.10 using the reasoning that options are extended to the woman in this hypothetical circumstance. Scripture contradicts this assertion, as God’s plain principle establishes that when we transgress His Law, we sin (I Jn. 3:4), and the one who violates God’s command is the sinner.
  • The two constraints, not options of equal choosing, given in I Cor. 7:11 to the woman who violates God’s command of I Cor. 7:10 harmonize perfectly with scripture: God not only expects repentance from sin (Lk. 13:3), but also restitution whenever and wherever possible (Matt. 5:23-26; Prov. 6:30-31). Thus, if and when she/he sins by violating God’s prohibition of divorce in v.10, restitution must be attempted. In the event that the marriage cannot be restored, the violator must remain unmarried to be pleasing to God.
  • With no scriptural proof, he asserted that someone can be prevented from serving God, and that supposition will enable one to divorce their mate in order to serve God. Again, scripture refutes this as our service is a personal choice (Jos. 24:15) not contingent upon any other persons’ actions or decisions, and despite personal trials and persecutions (II Tim. 3:12, Rev. 2:10), we can, and must be faithful to the Lord, if we expect to be saved (Matt. 10:22). No one can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:31-39), if we obey him (Jn. 14:21). The only one who can prevent someone from serving Christ is that person, thus no scriptural justification can be found for one to divorce their mate for this cause.
  • Many have surmised that Luke 18:29 gives authority for a man/woman to divorce their mate for the "...sake of the Kingdom of God..." by virtue of the word left used in that verse. However, these conclusions...
    • Violate the immediate context of the passage. Peter had affirmed that the apostles had left all and yet we know that he was not divorced from his wife (Matt. 8:15) and he remained married (I Pet. 5:1). The context shows that divorce is not under consideration in this passage, but rather subverting all to God’s service, as other passages clearly show that forsaking all for the Lord was not an option, but a command (Luke 14:25-27). Thus, if divorce is required to forsake all, which we are commanded to do, then divorce would be required to serve God, which He plainly condemns in the New Testament (I Cor. 7:10; Matt. 5:31-32). Thus, the word left in Luke 18:29 does not include divorce as a consideration
    • Violate the larger context of scripture. We are taught that the believing mate is to be an example of righteousness (I Pet. 3:1-2) to their unbelieving mate. Furthermore, divorcing the unbeliever, who would presumably not assist us in serving God, is prohibited (I Cor. 7:12-13). If the unbeliever departs, then the believer can let them depart.
    • Violate other plain commands. Divorce is prohibited for all causes, save fornication (Matt. 19:9; Matt. 5:31-32; I Cor. 7:10), and any conclusion that we reach cannot violate another command or established bible principle. The Lord Himself must give the exception, and the only exception He gives in the teaching about whether someone can lawfully divorce their mate is fornication. We simply will not find any other exception in scripture.

Conclusions

Brother Holmes has taught false doctrine and has affirmed the false teaching in spite of efforts to turn him away from it. The one who brings false teaching is guilty of causing divisions in the Lord’s church:

"...I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. [18] For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve..." Romans 16:17-18 (ESV)

The scriptures instruct us that we are to speak the same thing and be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

"...Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment..." 1 Corinthians 1:10 (NKJV)

May we heed the Lord’s command, speak as the oracles of God and give Him the glory (I. Pet. 4:11).

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