Question 24 (ABM) - Grounds for Divorce according to William Branham
The following are a series of questions and answers between one of our editors (referred to as BTS) and an anonymous Branham minister (referred to as ABM). This series of Q&A relates to William Branham's doctrine and teaching. The full text of this question and its answer is below.
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Question 24 - Grounds for Divorce according to William Branham
Thanks for your responses to date. I do find our discussions useful and I do think they will be useful to others who might read them in the future.
While I do disagree with and take significant exception with your conclusions and the reasoning you use to get to your conclusions, I also appreciate that you are not an angry person and we can carry on a reasonable discussion. Almost everyone in the message that we have had contact with becomes incredibly angry when we disagree with William Branham.
I want to move towards some of William Branham's unscriptural teachings.
One of the more controversial teachings of William Branham is the subject of Marriage and Divorce.
Specifically, William Branham was of the view that a man was permitted to divorce his wife for any of the following 3 reasons:
My question, which follows after my discussion below, is with respect to what constitutes biblical grounds for divorce. It is my view that, from a biblical perspective, William Branham's teaching on this subject is contrary to the plain meaning of scripture.
I apologize for the length of this email but I want to include a reasonably complete summation of what the Bible teaches on the subject of divorce. This summary will also form the basis for a further question on the subject of remarriage, so I do have some general comments on that issue. But that is not the question that I am concerned with in this email. I simply want to address what are acceptable grounds for divorce from a biblical perspective. We can deal with the issue of remarriage in a subsequent question.
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.
William Branham's teaching on marriage and divorce is just plain wrong according to the Bible. As a result, it is common in message churches for men to divorce their wives and remarry. Message ministers do not speak against this because they would be speaking against their prophet.
QUESTION: Do you agree with William Branham's doctrinal teaching that a man can divorce his wife for any of the following 3 reasons?
I want to keep this question very specific to the issue of divorce in these three cases so am not asking about his position with respect to remarriage. We can deal with this later but I do not want to confuse the issue of divorce with that of remarriage.
If you are in agreement with William Branham that a man can divorce his wife for any of these three reasons, please substantiate this with biblical support.
==Quotes of William Branham
The following are quotes of William Branham which are included for completeness and reference:
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! 
Response from ABM
Thank you for your continued dialogue. I can appreciate that many people get angry when you disagree with Bro. Branham. Those of my sect have long experienced this, going all the way back to when Bro. Branham was alive.
I have carefully read your email, and as far as doctrinal considerations go, I believe we largely agree, perhaps with one exception. I will state what we believe and then go on to try and show how we reconcile it with Bro. Branham's teachings.
How we handle divorce.
In short, we follow Paul's formula. Divorce falls into two categories. (1) Divorce where both are believers. (2) Divorce where only one party is a believer. The rule varies based on which situation a person is in.
We believe that the only circumstances in which two believers may divorce is in the case of adultery. Matthew 19:9 is our basis for this statement. In this case, we also believe in excommunicating the guilty party according to 1 Cor 5:9 for a period of time. We do allow an opening; if the two spouses choose to reconcile, then excommunication is lifted. We believe the decision to divorce belongs solely to innocent spouse according to Matt 19:9. The spouse who committed adultery has no right to remarry if there is a divorce. As long as the guilty spouse remains unmarried, they can be forgiven and received back into the fellowship after a period of time has passed. We find no scripture authorizing a new marriage for someone guilty of adultery. The innocent spouse is free to remarry. We base this freedom of the innocent spouse to remarry based on Matt 19:9 also, Jesus use of the word "except" implies remarriage in the case of adultery is permitted for the innocent party.
In the case where one spouse is a believer, but the other is an unbeliever, the believer is free to divorce if they are not well treated by their unbelieving spouse. If the believing spouse is not well treated, this is evidence that the unbelieving spouse is not pleased to dwell with them. We do not prevent the believer from initiating the divorce of their unbelieving spouse in this case. We base this on 1 Cor 7:12–16. We believe that "being pleased to dwell together" means to dwell happily and in peace together. If you review the greek word (strongs 4909), it does not simply mean "willing", but it means also "gratified" and is elsewhere translated as "hearty agreement". It implies a certain attitude be present in the unbelieving spouse. So if we find a lack of that attitude in the unbelieving spouse, we permit the believing spouse to divorce. For example, if an unbeliever mocked the believer for their faith and was constantly a thorn, yet never pressed divorce, the believing spouse is free to divorce. (We would try to counsel the situation first) So we are quite liberal in granting believers the freedom to divorce their unbelieving spouse.
If two believers have problems which are not adultery, they are permitted to separate. Divorce is not permitted. This is according to 1 Cor 7:11
If two people are married, and one is abusive, after counseling we can deem the abusive spouse to be an unbeliever, excommunicate the unbeliever, and permit the believing spouse to divorce and remarry. This is not explicitly stated in scripture, but we interpret Matthew 18:15-17 to give us a mechanism to declare someone an unbeliever, and having thus been decided, our interpretation of 1 Cor 7:12-16 takes effect.
We deem any marital sin prior to conversion to be forgiven through baptism and repentance. We do not consider any pre-conversion reason as valid reason to divorce or to prevent remarriage. This can be a bit complicated, but will leave it at that.
Reconciling Bro. Branham's teachings
What I have elaborated above seems somewhat different than your opinion of Bro. Branham's teachings. Let me explain how we derive our belief from his teachings.
We begin by understanding the situations going on in the Tabernacle that prompted Bro. Branham to preach Marriage and Divorce to begin with. We understand that outsiders do not have the full context of the situations there, and some things which are obvious to us are not obvious to others. We secondarily believe Bro. Branham was not trying to create new doctrine on this subject, but simply interpret existing scripture. (Idolaters on the other hand believe he was trying to put forward some new standard. This is error. He was just promoting what he believed was a traditional Christian view of divorce.)
There were several people at the church who had unbelieving spouses. In the cases of a wife dishonoring her husband, we understand Bro. Branham was speaking about cases with an unbelieving spouse. If the unbelieving spouse dishonored their believing spouse that would be an indication that they were unwilling to dwell together in peace. This would be grounds for divorce under 1 Cor 7:12-16. However, if both spouses were believers, this would not be grounds for divorce. So in this manner, we feel we fully reconcile what Bro. Branham taught on these points to scripture. (It is not clear to outsiders that Bro. Branham was speaking specifically of cases of an unbelieving spouse when he spoke of the cases where the wife dishonored her husband.)
In the case where Bro. Branham says a woman has no right to remarry in the case where her husband divorces her, we believe he just did not communicate clearly and many people (including message people) misunderstand what he meant. We interpret his teaching to mean that the party guilty of adultery has no right to remarry, whether it is the man or the woman. He merely used the example of a husband as the innocent party. We agree that there is equality between man and woman in these matters, and we believe Bro. Branham believed so himself. He was just not clear on this point. Emphasis is on the guilty party not being able to remarry, not on the gender.
In the case where a woman had relations prior to marriage but did not disclose it to her husband prior to marriage, we differ with you slightly. We do believe in Old Testatement times, this would be a cause for divorce, immediately following the consummation of the marriage when the lack of virginity was discovered. (Duet 22) If, immediately after a marriage, a husband found his wife to not be a virgin, we believe it would be acceptable to annul the marriage. We have, however, never witnessed such a case. So this is purely a hypothetical situation. We have heard of some message sects allowing divorce years after marriage for this reason. We do not believe this was in keeping with the scripture. If the request to divorce for this reason is not immediate following the marriage consummation, it is not a valid reason to divorce. We would, of course, if such a situation arose, do everything within our power to encourage the two spouses to reconcile and not divorce. (We believe Bro. Branham did think it was acceptable to divorce a woman years after their marriage if he discovered she had not been a virgin at marriage. However, this is not scriptural, and we believe he had a mistaken understanding.)
In the case where Bro. Branham says "he can put her away, but she cannot put him away", we also accept this teaching. But we interpret it differently that you are. We believe in the specific cases he gave, that the party guilty of adultery has no right force the divorce. It is the innocent party who has the right to chose a divorce. The prerogative of divorce or reconciliation lays completely with the innocent party. Bro. Branham merely stated if from the perspective of the man being the innocent party - however the reverse could also be true. So again, we believe this is equal for both genders, and the emphasis is not on the gender but on the guilty party.
I am aware how other sects of the message have went crazy with Bro. Branham's statements. Some adopted polygamy, some divorced their wife of many years for no good reason, others used it to hold women in bondage. That is wicked, and those men are wicked. We do not blame Bro. Branham for their wickedness, because we see through his own life how treated his wife and understand how we felt about marriage. I view people who use Bro. Branham's statements to justify their immorality no differently than people who twist the sayings of Jesus.
You ask: Do you agree with William Branham's doctrinal teaching that a man can divorce his wife for any of the following 3 reasons?
If the wife cuts her hair; or
If the wife dresses in a manner that the husband doesn't like
If the wife had sex with a man other than her husband prior to marriage but did not tell her husband prior to their marriage.
I would say that all three of these scenarios are very petty reasons to divorce and we would counsel the parties to not divorce for these reasons. But if they pressed for divorce and ignored our counseling, we would permit it. In all cases, including adultery, we seek to have the couple delay any decision to divorce, but separate if necessary. We see divorce as the last resort. In cases of abuse, we are quick to encourage separation and in cases of serious abuse we move quickly to excommunicate the abuser and report to the authorities. We have several thousand people in our associated churches, so we have had to deal with these issues from time to time and believe we have a very scriptural system. Divorce is uncommon in our "sect" of the message. It is primarily driven by cases of adultery in my experience.