Question:

I was talking to a preacher and he told me several things I had never heard before regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage. I would like to go into detail about this, but I am still studying what he told me.

But I would like to ask you a question in relation to this. I am curious to know if you have read about Jerry F. Bassett and his teaching on marriage, divorce and remarriage? I ask this because Bassett is teaching the same view this preacher holds. I have a small booklet from him titled Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: An Exposition of the Scriptures, and in it he discusses specific contexts for certain passages, such as Matthew 19 and I Corinthians 7, to defend his view.

One brief example: Bassett claims that Matthew 19's teaching was directed at the Pharisees who questioned Jesus on whether they could divorce for any reason at all and that the Pharisees had practiced an unlawful way of divorcing, so Jesus reproved them by stating what was allowable in verse 9 and in relation to Deuteronomy 24:1-4. And in addition to that, Bassett claims that the adultery spoken of in verse 9 refers to the act of divorcing and remarrying combined. He claims this is so because he says that Jesus also used the word adultery in a different way in Matthew 5:27-29 when referring to lust.

What do you say about all of this?


Answer:

I have not ready Jerry Bassett's material, though I have read several quotes from his writings, enough to understand the gist of his arguments.

In Jerry Bassett's view adultery only occurs when when the marriage covenant is broken. He rejects the idea that adultery can be an on going sin. Here are a number of quotes to establish that this is what Jerry Bassett is teaching:

"The very act, Jesus said, of a man divorcing his wife and marrying another woman,..., was itself an act of adultery"
[Jerry Bassett, Rethinking Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage, 1991, p. 30).

"We have often heard, and used, the expression, 'adulterous marriage.' By this is meant a marriage in which its partners commit adultery with each other every time they engage in sexual intercourse. Since we are obligated to speak as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11), it seems we should have noticed that the phrase, 'adulterous marriage, simply does not appear anywhere in the Scriptures. We should have also noticed that this expression is a contradiction in terms when the word 'adulterous' is used to describe sexual intercourse with another person's spouse, and the word 'marriage' refers to that in which a man and a woman are spouses to each other. This very idea, and thus the term used to describe it, seems to have originated in the minds of men as a result of a faulty concept of what Jesus meant by his use of the term adultery."
[Jerry Bassett, Rethinking Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage, p. 72.]

"As explained earlier, it is not our conviction that Jesus was talking about adultery in the form of sexual intercourse within a subsequent marriage. Rather he spoke expressly of the dual act of divorcing one's wife and marrying another woman."
[Jerry Bassett, Rethinking Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage, p. 111.]

"It is significant that Jesus' statement according to Matthew 19:9 is an expansion spoken to the Pharisees of what he had said earlier concerning them in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:20, 32). Notice that in both places (actually in every place) Jesus spoke first of a man committing adultery by divorcing his wife and marrying another... In either case, it would be a matter of a woman disposing of one mate in order to acquire another -- a two-fold act Jesus termed adulterous, in and of itself..."
[Coburg Road Bulletin, Church of Christ, 1005 Coburg Road, Eugene, Oregon, Vol. 18, No. 2, Jan. 12, 1997].

"Further, we have pointed out that this makes it impossible for Jesus to have been teaching that a twice married man and woman commit adultery by sexual intercourse within their marriage" [Coburg Road Bulletin, Church of Christ, 1005 Coburg Road, Eugene, Oregon, Vol. 18, No. 8, Feb. 23, 1997].

"Is the adultery he charged committed by sexual intercourse with the spouse of the second marriage? Not by the lexical definition of the term, "...unlawful intercourse WITH THE SPOUSE OF ANOTHER" (Wm. E. Vine, emphasis supplied [JB]). This cannot apply to people in a second marriage following divorce because, unlike the case in Paul's analogy, neither of them has another husband or wife." [Coburg Road Bulletin, Church of Christ, 1005 Coburg Road, Eugene, Oregon, Vol. 18, No. 15, Apr. 13, 1997).

"... historical descriptions ... leave no doubt that the sin of adultery was rampant whether committed as defined by the lexicons (unlawful intercourse with the spouse of another) or as in the case Jesus reproved (one's divorcing a mate in order to marry another)."
[Coburg Road Bulletin, Church of Christ, 1005 Coburg Road, Eugene, Oregon, Vol. 18, No. 31, Aug. 3, 1997].

Is Adultery Covenant Breaking Only?

Because Jerry Bassett sees divorce and remarriage as a one-time event, he then claims that people who are non-Christians when they have divorced and remarried are forgiven of that sin along with the others they have committed. There is no need for the current marriage to end because the continuing marriage is not the problem, it is the wedding (in essence) that was the adultery.

What I find fascinating is that Jerry admits that his definition of adultery does not match the accepted definitions found in dictionaries and lexicons. Worse, there is a verse that tells us that adultery is the act of unlawful sexual intercourse:

"Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act"" (John 8:3-4).

I know of no one claiming that the Pharisees dragged away a woman from her wedding.

Is Adultery Only the Initial Act or Can It Be an On-Going Sin?

Let's take another similar situation. Often times in the Old Testament, God refers to idolatry as adultery. "How shall I pardon you for this? Your children have forsaken Me and sworn by those that are not gods. When I had fed them to the full, then they committed adultery and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots' houses" (Jeremiah 5:7). Was it just the first time they worshiped an idol an act of idolatry and it was no longer considered idolatry thereafter? If an idolatrous Israelite became a Christian, does that mean he can continue to worship idols because his baptism washed his initial act of idolatry?

No, the Bible is clear that a person can be continually in sin; that is, live in a sinful state.

"Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them" (Colossians 3:5-7).

The problem is that Jerry's definition is contrived. It doesn't match the usage of "adultery" in the New Testament. "Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man" (Romans 7:1-3). Notice that she isn't just an adulteress when she marries another man, she remains an adulteress while her husband lives. Thus a person can live in adultery. Paul doesn't use it as a one time act but an on-going sin.

Now Jerry tries to get around this by stating that context -- a discussion of the Old Law -- modifies the definition of adultery in Jesus' statements. However, notice that Paul starts out by reminding people what the law stated. Which law was Paul talking about? It was the Old Testament law (Romans 7:7). It still applies today because there has been no change in these particular laws.

Another attempt to avoid the obvious is to narrow the definition of adultery to only individual sexual acts. Sex with a married person is an act of adultery because it violates the covenant that the married person had with his spouse but so does marriage to another person while the current spouse lives. That is Paul's point. The Jews could not enter into a covenant relationship with Christ until the first covenant died. Only then would they be free to enter into a new covenant. If they attempted to enter into another covenant while the old covenant continued they would be rightfully called "adulteresses." But because the Old Law had died with Jesus on the cross (Colossians 2:13-14), this allowed the Jews to freely join themselves with Christ.

Glossing Over the Greek

There is something many people skip or don't notice:

"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" (Matthew 5:32).

"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).

"So He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery"" (Mark 10:11-12).

"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery" (Luke 16:18).

In English, "commits adultery" can refer to something that happened in the past or something that is on going. However, in the Greek this phrase translates the words moichatai (Matthew and Mark) and moicheuei (Luke). Grammatically both words are a third-person singular verb indicative, present tense. The word in Matthew and Mark are in the middle voice, while the one in Luke is in the active voice. In particular, the use of present tense means it is something happening now or is on going. To indicate a one-time past event, the past tense would have been used.

So while Jerry's argument sounds feasible in English, it doesn't match the original Greek.