Grounds for Divorce in the Message
One of the controversial teachings of William Branham is the subject of Marriage and Divorce.
What William Branham taught
William Branham was of the view that the following were grounds for a man to divorce his wife:
What the Bible teaches
Mark is generally seen as the oldest of the Gospel (i.e. the first one written) so we will start there:
It is clear from this passage that the genders are equal when it comes to remarriage. Mark 10:11 is addressed to men and Mark 10:12 is directed towards women. If a man remarries, he is guilty of adultery. If a woman remarries, she is guilty of adultery.
The interesting thing about this passage is that the Lord refused to answer the Pharisees’ question about divorce until they clearly understood God’s will for marriage - what God has joined together, let not man separate.
He then deals with the remarriage question directly when he is alone with the disciples. He clearly states that remarriage is wrong because it is adulterous: a man who remarries after divorce commits adultery and in the same way a woman who remarries after divorcing her husband commits adultery.
Since Jesus specifically calls remarriage after legal divorce ‘adultery’, he is saying that although the two may be legally divorced, they are still married before God. This means that remarriage is not only wrong, it is impossible at the deepest level. Jesus is saying that it is not actually possible to marry again during the lifetime of a divorced partner; it is only possible to commit adultery, even though from a legal point of view this new ‘marriage’ has been properly entered into. And he does not differentiate between the sexes.
Jesus taught that a man who divorced his wife and remarried committed adultery ‘against her’ i.e. his first wife. Jewish law did not recognize this. A woman could commit adultery against her husband by having an extra-marital affair. A man could commit adultery against another man by having an affair with that other man’s wife. But if the woman was unmarried, then the sin of the man was fornication (since intercourse is only permitted within marriage) and not adultery (since the woman was not married). It was not possible, under Jewish law, for a man to commit adultery against his own wife.
Jesus clearly changes Mosaic law and introduces gender equality into divorce and remarriage. A wife, according to Jesus, has just as great a right to fidelity as a husband. It is just as much adultery against her if he has an affair as it is adultery against him if she has an affair. Or to state more accurately what Jesus says: If the man remarries having divorced his wife, this is an offense against her and, specifically, the sin of adultery. She is just as much sinned against in this case as he would be if she remarried after divorcing him.
Mark is also unique among the Gospels because it records Jesus not only forbidding the man to divorce and remarry but forbidding the wife the same thing. St Paul also states that Jesus told wives not to divorce their husbands (1 Cor. 7:10). This was impossible under Jewish law, according to which a wife could sue the courts for divorce but could not directly divorce her husband.
Luke contains a single verse on the issue of divorce:
This verse addresses the issue of remarriage. The first half of this verse is virtually identical to Mark 10:11 The second part of the verse adds a new point to that of Mark - it is also adultery for a single man to marry a divorced woman. The entire verse is addressed to the man. Jesus says: it is wrong to marry another woman after divorcing your wife; it is just as wrong to marry (for the first time) a woman who has been divorced. In other words, the divorced woman’s first marriage still exists despite the legal divorce and therefore true remarriage is actually impossible in reality, and in God’s eyes (as opposed to those of the law of the land), it can only be adultery.
Matthew records 2 passages on the issue of divorce, the first being in Matthew 5.
Again, these two verses are addressed to the man. The first part of verse 31 (ignoring the exception for sexual immorality for the moment) is identical to the first portion of Luke 16:18 - whoever divorces his wife – but the end of the statement is very different. The assumption is that, after being divorced, she will remarry. She commits adultery BUT the guilt for the sin is her first husband’s (and not hers). He ‘causes her’ to commit adultery: he drives her to it. Admittedly, she should not get remarried, but the greater sin—though it does not excuse her action or make the remarriage all right—is her husband’s for divorcing her in the first place.
It is clear from Bro. Branham’s teaching on this issue that he completely misses the point of Jesus statement when he states:
Bro. Branham’s statement here completely ignores Mark 10:11 and Luke 16:18. It also assumes that Matthew’s lack of speaking to the woman somehow allows a man to remarry and a woman not to remarry.
You can’t make a doctrine out of silence. You have to take the scripture as a whole.
What Jesus is saying is that the divorced woman commits adultery by remarrying, and her first husband should have prevented it by not freeing her and giving her economic reason to marry another man.
Dealing with the exception clause, the phrase “except sexual immorality” uses the Greek word “porneia” from which we derive the English word “pornography”. Its normal meaning would be that of illicit sexual intercourse but would also include other sexual acts such as incest, homosexuality and bestiality. It is probably for this reason that the more general word porneia is used in preference to the more specific term for adultery (moicheia).
But why is the exception here and not in Mark or Luke?
Both Jewish and Roman law demanded divorce in the case of adultery; a Christian would therefore be breaking the law if he did not divorce an adulterous wife. Divorce in these circumstances was also considered mandatory in some of the writings of the early church.
The assumption is that Jesus (in his teaching recorded in Mark and Luke) was aware that divorce would take place—or at least was permissible—in the case of adultery; and Matthew simply brought out what everybody knew already.
One thing that is clear is that the main thrust of Jesus’ teaching, and what stuck in his disciples’ minds (and therefore not in either Mark or Luke), was not the exception but the forbidding of divorce and of remarriage. It is also clear that Jesus does not here state that remarriage is permissible where there is illicit sexual activity during marriage but simply that divorce is permitted only in such circumstances.
The last part of Matthew 5:32 is basically the same as the last part of Luke 16:18
Bro. Branham misinterprets this passage as follows:
Bro. Branham thinks that the KJV interpretation of the word porneia is something that refers to activity prior to marriage, which it is not. The NIV interprets it as “except for marital unfaithfulness”; the GNT as “other than her unfaithfulness”; and the Amplified as “except on the grounds of unfaithfulness”. His interpretation does not stand up to scrutiny if you look at the true meaning of the Greek.
This passage is Matthew’s account of the incident told in Mark 10:1-12. As in Matthew 5:32, but unlike the passage in Mark, Matthew’s account contains an exception. The wording in the Greek is similar here and again uses the Greek word “porneia”. Clearly Jesus allows divorce where there has been illicit sexual activity. But is he also allowing remarriage for the partner who has not committed adultery, where there has been divorce for adultery?
Two positions are possible. Either Jesus allows separation, including legal divorce, in the case of porneia (marital unfaithfulness) but maintains that the marriage bond is still in existence and therefore even in this instance remarriage would be adultery: or he allows full divorce in the case of adultery, a divorce which dissolves the marriage bond and therefore opens the way for remarriage.
The exception phrase comes after the verb ‘divorce’ and modifies the clause ‘anyone who divorces his wife’. This is the obvious—indeed the only—position in the sentence that Matthew could put the phrase if he wanted to say that divorce is permissible in the case of adultery but remarriage is not. If Matthew had written: ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, except in the case of marital unfaithfulness’, then it would be clear that remarriage was allowed. But that is not how it is worded. This passage as a whole makes more sense if Jesus is rescinding the whole concept of full divorce which the Mosaic legislation permitted.
This position also makes sense in the context of the reaction of the disciples to Jesus teachings – “His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” (Matt 19:10)
If Jesus was allowing remarriage after divorce for adultery why would the disciples react with such surprise??? It can only be because he laid down a law that was so strict that they could not even comprehend it. Jesus’s reply to the disciples’ surprised reaction was also surprising. While they may have expected him to refute their comment, what he did was comment on the positive value of being single.
The disciples are amazed at Jesus’ reply. They have understood him to say something much more strict than anything they had encountered. Jesus is not allowing remarriage even in the case of adultery; he is saying that even in the case of adultery the marriage bond still exists.
Jesus’ response to the dismay of the disciples is also interesting. He states - “Not everyone can accept this statement, except those to whom it has been given.” Does this mean that if you can’t accept it you don’t have to? Does it mean it doesn’t apply to everyone? Is this principle not practical for everyone? Or is it that not everyone can understand what is being said but only those to whom God had given understanding? Apparently all of these interpretations are possible from the Greek wording of the passage.
The Corinthians had written to Paul (1 Cor 7:1) specifically asking him questions on a variety of matters which he addresses in his letter to them. In fact, the second part of 1 Cor 7:1 – “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” – appears to be a direct quotation from their letter which Paul would be in some agreement. But he does not agree with how they are using it.
The leading commentators believe that it was the women in the church especially who were saying that sexual intercourse was to be avoided. From 1 Cor 7:1-6, it is very likely that the women in the Corinthian church were denying sexual intimacy to their husbands (‘have his own wife’ in verse 2 means ‘have intercourse with his wife’, it does not mean ‘get married to his own wife’). Commentators think that it may well have been this which drove some of the men to seek sexual satisfaction with prostitutes (1 Cor 6:15–20). The Corinthians thought that because they were people of the Spirit, they had moved to a higher plane, the realm of spirit, where they were unaffected by behavior that had merely to do with the body. The word for ‘immorality’ in 1 Cor 7:2, has the same root as the word for prostitution (porn-) and is in the plural (literally: because of the immoralities), which may refer to the men having sex with prostitutes. Thus 7:2 would then be saying: Since the men are resorting to prostitutes, each man should be allowed to have intercourse with his own wife (contrary to the teaching (verse 1) espoused by the Corinthian women).
Dealing with divorce, Paul approaches two distinct issues:
It is very important to recognize these separate distinct issues when looking at the question. His comments where there are 2 believing spouses are by way of command (“not I, but the Lord”) and his comments where only one spouse is a believer appear to be by way of suggestion (“I, not the Lord”).
1 Corinthians 7:10-12
:And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
In 1 Cor 7:10-11, Paul is speaking to believing couples. But why does Paul major so heavily on the wife and adds the husband almost as an afterthought? The order of Paul’s concern, which is addressed first and primarily to the women, lends credence to the suggestion that the problem stems basically from women in the church who were using their slogan from 1 Cor 7:1 to reject sexual relations with their husbands (verse 5), and arguing for divorce if it came to that. In speaking to “the married,” Paul is directing his response to couples where both partners are believers. This is made certain by 1 Cor 7:12–16, where, in a way that balances with 1 Cor 7:10–11, he addresses “the rest,” whom that context defines as believers married to unbelievers.
Paul specifically refers to the fact that Jesus himself spoke to this question, so he states that it is “not I” from whom this command comes, “but the Lord.”
“No divorce” is what is “commanded” for believers; nonetheless, just as in all the other situations addressed in this chapter, Paul allows an exception: “but if indeed she is separated.” “No divorce” is not turned into law, and the woman who does so is not put out of the community. What is disallowed is precisely what one finds in the teaching of Jesus: no remarriage, i.e. no adultery. Hence if she does separate, she must continue to follow the command “Stay as you are,” meaning now “Remain unmarried.”
The wife who divorces her husband may not use her present unmarried condition as an excuse for remarriage to someone else. If she does in fact desire to remarry, she must “be reconciled to her husband.” This is in keeping with Paul’s view expressed elsewhere that for believers marriage is permanent, from its inception until the decease of one of the partners (1 Cor 7:39; Rom. 7:1–3). The command is clear: she is to remain as she is and not divorce her husband; but if she were to disobey this first directive, then she must again remain as she is and not commit adultery by remarrying someone else. If she does not like her new unmarried status, then she must be reconciled to her husband.
What is true of the wife, Paul adds, is likewise true of the husband: “And a husband must not divorce his wife.” The lack of an exception here suggests that this is not where the problem lay; although one could imply that what is said of the wife would apply to the husband as well.
William Branham's teaching on divorce is completely against scripture when he states:
He moves even farther from Paul's teaching on the subject when he states:
There is nowhere in the Bible that this is taught. And certainly this goes directly against Paul's teaching when he states, "let not the husband put away his wife."
William. Branham further misses the whole point of Paul’s teaching when he states:
How did Brother Branham create an exception when none is given? And specifically, when Paul commands that the husband not divorce his wife, how is any exception allowed? Nowhere does Paul permit either directly or indirectly any remarriage of the husband in this verse.
Paul is effectively stating that if a Christian husband and wife cannot be reconciled to one another, then how can they expect to become models of reconciliation before a fractured and broken world?
1 Corinthians 7:12-16
Paul’s answer is consistent with 1 Cor 7:10–11; they are to “stay as they are.” The believer may not initiate divorce (1 Cor 7:12–13), for which in this instance a reason is added (1 Cor 7:14). But as before, there is an exception; if the pagan chooses to leave, then the believer is not bound to maintain the marriage (1 Cor 7:15). But God’s call is to “peace”, which means further that one should maintain the marriage in the hope of the unbelieving spouse’s conversion (1 Cor 7:16). The believer may not pursue divorce, “but if” the unbeliever separates, let him or her do so. That is, if the pagan spouse seeks the dissolution of the marriage, then allow the divorce.
The real difficulty with this passage is with the middle part of verse 15, “a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases.” That is, they are not bound to the ruling given above about maintaining the marriage. They have wanted to dissolve such marriages. Paul has said “No”. But now he allows that if the pagan wants out, then one is not enslaved.
Does this mean that the believer is free to remarry? There are a number of reasons why this does not appear to be the case:
The real problem with this passage is that its focus on maintaining mixed marriages (but allowing them to dissolve if the pagan initiates the action) does not offer much help on the problem of remarriage.
The Early Church
It should be added that from earliest post-New Testament days, writers in the early church wrote about divorce and remarriage. Almost always their teaching is about remarriage—rather than merely about divorce. In almost every case they write against remarriage and mention no exceptions. When writing about divorce they do quite frequently mention the permission—which they quite often make into a command—to divorce where there has been adultery. The overwhelming majority of them do not allow remarriage in these circumstances. Some specifically prohibit it; others simply say: there should be no remarriage after divorce. They mention no exceptions.
Quotes of William Branham
The Bible claims, if a woman cuts her hair, a man's got a right to put her away in divorcement, because she's not honest with him. We have to get down and preach the Bible here some of these days. Said, "If she bobs her hair, she dishonors her husband." If she's dishonorable, she ought to be put away. You can't marry another one, but you can put her away. Whew. Boy, that—that's going hard; I can feel it. But that's the truth.
And the woman had a dress on, and if I'd see my wife like that, I'd divorce her. And that's exactly the truth. I wouldn't... I'd put her away, out there like that, and paint all over her face....
Notice, he can put away his wife any time he wants to, but she can't put him away...
Now you notice in First Corinthians 7:10, notice, Paul commands the wife that is, that divorces her husband, to remain single or be reconciled, not to remarry. She must remain single, or to be reconciled back to her husband. She cannot remarry. She must remain single, but, notice, he never said about the man. See, you can't make the Word lie. "From the beginning," the sex law by polygamy. Now, the Word of God runs true with nature of God, runs in to continuity.
I have told you the Truth, THUS SAITH THE LORD, all the way through!