Does Baptism Wash Away Unlawful Marriages?

Introduction. In our efforts to convert the lost, by leading them to an understanding of the glorious forgiveness offered in Jesus Christ from all past sins -- and yet at the same time to stand up for the beautiful teaching of the New Testament regarding the permenance of marriage, sometimes we run into a tension between these two doctrines. What is one to do who has come to Christ for forgiveness of sins, who finds themselves in a marriage relationship which Jesus defines as unlawful? Can such a relationship be sustained? Does baptism change the nature of the relationship from unlawful to lawful? This is a powerful, serious, and often emotional issue to consider.
     Recent decades have seen this issue become a battleground among brethren. Since the views on divorce and remarriage of the late bro. Homer Hailey became public, followed by a book he published on the issue, this view (which was promoted years before by Fuqua and Bales) brought this debate again into the forefront - and has in turn spawned even further controversies.
     While we have studied this issue to some extent in the past in general studies on marriage, divorce and remarriage, it is important that we remain ever aware of the truth on this issue so that the pressures of our world do not complel us to accept error on this matter. This evening I would like for us to considerthe question - Does Baptism Wash Away Unlawful Marriages?

I. The Law of Christ on Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage.

  1. “What God Has Joined Together, Let Not Man Separate.” (Matthew 19:1-6). God intended for marriages to last throughout the life of a man and woman.
    1. “A Wife is Bound By Law As Long As Her Husband Lives.” (I Corinthians 7:39). When two people (who are free to marry) are joined together they are God-joined for life.
    2. “Let Her Remain Unmarried or Be Reconciled to Her Husband.” (I Corinthians 7:10,11). If a circumstance occurs that effects this condition the course is clear reconciliation or remaining unmarried. Note: vs. 11 - Greek passive and middle forms in most cases have the same form only the context can determine. Thus either a wife is not to - “depart for herself” or “has been separated” (reflecting the man putting away the woman against her will - as was often the case). 
  2. “Whoever Divorces His Wife and Marries Another Commits Adultery” (Mark 10:11,12) KJV & ASV “puts away” - In Scripture divorce is an action done by one party to another. Deuteronomy 24:1 - putting away literally involves sending one out of the house.
    1. “Whoever marries Her Who is Divorced From Her Husband Commits Adultery” (Luke 16:18) Thus the one who puts someone away and remarries commits adultery - and the one marries one who is put away commits adultery.
    2. “Except For Sexual Immorality” (Matthew 19:9) The only condition under which one is allowed to remarry is when an innocent party puts away one guilty of sexual immorality “for” - Greek word is epi- meaning literally “over” fornication.
II. The Law of Christ on Repentance.

     The crux of this issue concerns what repentance would require in a situation in which, prior to obedience to the gospel one has divorced unlawfully and remarried in violation of the law of Christ. To answer this we must consider what repentance requires in general.

  1. John’s Teaching on Repentance. (Luke 3:7-14).
  2. Paul’s Teaching on Repentance. (Acts 26:19-20).
  3. Repentance and Unlawful Marriages. No specific examples that perfectly match a divorce and remarriage scenario but some principles can be determined from 1 situation before the NT, 1 during the life of Christ & 1 during the history of the early church.
    1. Unlawful Marriages After the Exile. (Ezra 9:1,2; 10:1-4).
    2. Herod’s Unlawful Marriage to Herodias. (Matthew 14:3,4).
    3. The Corinthian Man Who Had His Father’s Wife. (I Corinthians 5:1-5). In each of these examples it is clear that one who is in an unlawful relationship must end that relationship.
III. Arguments Against These Principles.
  1. “Since Baptism Washes Away Sins, Wouldn’t It Make Everything OK?
    1. Baptism washes away sin. (Acts 22:16).
    2. Baptism does not equate with repentance. (Acts 2:38). Just as those on Pentecost could not continue to oppose Jesus as the Messiah after they were baptized - baptism does not change something that is wrong into something that is right.
  2. “God Wouldn’t Ask People To Break Up Families.” (Matthew 19:6). “What God Has Joined Together” - If people do not have the right to be together children produced from such unions do not make a union acceptable. E.g. Incestuous unions. African, South Pacific or South American Tribes. In the recent polygamous unions which have been in the spotlight from the LDS compoound in El Dorado Texas. These unions involved children and families. What if one of those folks wanted to obey the gospel? Could they stay in their polygamous relationship? Of course not!
  3. “The Laws of Divorce Only Apply to Christians.” This is a strange argument that presents a number of logical dilemmas that I don’t believe those who hold such view have thought through.
    • If the NT doesn’t apply to all how can we tell anyone what sin is? 
    • Some will say that the world is accountable to the Patriarchal law that existed from the beginning. How can we determine whether they have sinned then? (I Corinthians 9:19-22)
  4. “Isn’t the Sin Breaking the Covenant rather than continued Fornication?” A preacher named Edwards has written a book, popular among institutional brethren that makes this argument. (Romans 7:2,3). Note: She is an adulteress - this is a state that continues while the relationship continues.
  5. “If That Is What the Bible Requires, Wouldn’t There Be Examples of People Who Had Done That?” (Matthew 19:10-12). Early church history offers no refuge to those who would hold this view. 
    • 2nd century Christians generally didn’t allow themselves the right to marry even in the case of the exception. 
    • Justin ca. 150 A.D. condemned 2nd marriages and referred to people in all nations in their 60’s and 70’s who had remained unmarried (First Apology 15).
    • Ambrose 339 A.D. in discussing the qualifications for a bishop specifically addresses the very question we are discussing stating directly “Sin is washed away in baptism, law is not” (Letter 63.63). 
Conclusion. In obedience to the Gospel the Lord offers to man the wondrous opportunity to have sins forgiven and to start a new relationship with God. This never gives man the right to continue in those things that are wrong.