Skip to main content

—REVIEW—

The Shepherd book says that a person who is divorced but who is not Scripturally free to remarry enters an adulterous marriage if he marries again; he will also be disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation.

Three requirements must be fulfilled in order to have the freedom to remarry:

1) Sexual immorality.

2) Rejection of the guilty mate by the innocent mate.

3) A legal divorce according to the laws of the country.

The shepherd book shows that the elders function as judges in cases of adultery. Of course, this is a task inherent in the duties of the elders, who are the leaders of the congregation. But it also may create unnecessary problems because of human commandments made by the GB.

The GB has created a huge problem in connection with point one by giving different explanations in a zig-zag mode of what is included in the word porneia. Of the nine different explanations, two have been discarded (oral and anal sex inside marriage) and four have been invented and introduced by the GB without any Scriptural basis (artificial insemination, bestiality, fondling of the genitals of a person to whom one is not married, and porneia without skin-to-skin contact).

As The Watchtower of January 1972 correctly says, the only action that is included in porneia between persons of the opposite sex is sexual intercourse between two persons (becoming “one flesh”). Homosexual acts are also included in porneia because the Bible clearly indicates that they are (Jude 7).

According to the Shepherd book, adultery can be proven by, 1) clear evidence of the practicing of one of the GB definitions of porneia, 2) a confession by the guilty mate to the innocent mate, and 3) a special kind of circumstantial evidence. Accepting circumstantial evidence is a clear rejection of the Scriptural requirement of two eyewitnesses in order to prove a wrong action.

The rejection of the guilty mate by the innocent mate is necessary to dissolve the marriage and thus, free the two mates to remarry. One token of forgiveness is that the innocent mate resumes sexual relations with the guilty mate. The GB has given the rule, contrary to several biblical passages, that the innocent mate can refuse to have sexual relations with the guilty mate for “a year or even years.” And the guilty mate cannot use this situation to claim rejection by the innocent mate, and by this dissolve the marriage.

I discuss one example showing that this rule of the GB is unwise and that it takes away a part of the Christian freedom of the marriage mates. I suggest that in accord with the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:25, that a Christian should “be quick to settle legal matters with your legal opponent”.

Therefore, if an innocent mate refuses to at least begin taking steps to re-establish the “one flesh” bond with his or her mate within a much shorter time than one year, this is a clear indication of rejection by the innocent mate.

There are two bad sides to the issue of “adulterous marriages” and porneia within the JW community. First, the members of the GB have made several definitions of porneia that lack Scriptural backing. Marriages are dissolved on the basis of these manmade decisions, and marriage mates have also been disfellowshipped based thereon. Second, the elders have too much power in connection with the decision regarding whether a Witness is free to remarry or not. If a Witness disagrees with the elders, even when he has a basis for his view in the Christian Greek Scriptures, he will always be the loser. A disagreement with the elders can lead to his disfellowshipping.

One of the 43 disfellowshipping actions that are listed in the book “Shepherd The flock Of God” is “Adulterous marriage.” Chapter 12, point 10 says:

Adulterous marriage: If a divorced person remarries and he was not Scripturally free to do so — in other words, if adultery and rejection by the innocent mate had not occurred —he has entered into an adulterous marriage. In Jehovah’s eyes, he has married someone while still bound to another. Entering into such a marriage would call for judicial action. — See 12:76

WHAT DOES “FREEDOM TO REMARRY” MEAN?

The Shepherd book shows in chapter 12, point 72 that in order to remarry, the following requirements must be fulfilled:

Scriptural freedom to remarry requires three conditions: (1) sexual immorality (por·nei’a); (2) a rejection (refusal to reconcile) by the innocent mate; and (3) a legal, final divorce. (Matt 5:31, 32; 19:9: Heb. 13:4) For example, if an individual contemplating remarriage confesses that he has been guilty of sexual immorality after his former mate legally divorced him or if his former mate has admitted to committing sexual immorality since the legal divorce, both are Scripturally free to remarry.

The three requirements are correct

I will look at the three requirements in the quotation above in the light of the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:9. The verse shows that sexual immorality (porneia) can be a reason for divorce, as point 1) says. The focus of Jesus was on the innocent mate, on the one who had not committed sexual immorality.

This means that he or she was the one who had to take the initiative to demand that the marriage be dissolved. If he did not want to dissolve the marriage after the mate had committed sexual immorality, that was his right according to the words of Jesus. The second point is also correct.

 I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except on the grounds of sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”

The third point of a legal divorce accords with the laws of the country and is correct as well. When all three requirements are fulfilled, the marriage is dissolved in God’s eyes. From a Christian point of view, points 1) and 2) are the basic requirements, and because of human commandments made up and invented by the GB, there are problems with each of these two requirements.

The different viewpoints of the GB as to the meaning of porneia

My article “Sexual immorality (porneia)” in the category “The eleven disfellowshipping offenses” has a detailed discussion of how the viewpoints of the GB have changed in a zig-zag fashion over the years. The article shows that many Classical Greek words have different meanings and references from their Christian Greek Scripture counterparts. This means that the only way to find the meaning and references of porneia is to look at the contexts of the 25 occurrences of the word, the three occurrences of the verb moikhaō, and the 13 occurrences of the verb moikheuō. (Both verbs have the meaning “to commit sexual immorality.”)

The Watchtower of January 1972, page 31, shows that only porneia “sexual immorality” can break the marriage bond. And the magazine says regarding the meaning of porneia:

It [the marriage] is broken only by acts that make an individual “one flesh” with a person of the opposite sex other than his or her legal marriage mate.

This means that the only meaning of porneia, according to the GB in 1972, was sexual intercourse between two persons that were not married to each other. An addendum was made to the references of porneia later that year in The Watchtower of November of 1972 showing that porneia also includes homosexuality in addition to sexual intercourse with another person to whom one is not married. These are the only references to porneia that we can find in the Christian Greek Scriptures and therefore, the only references that have biblical backing.

However, in time, the meaning of the word porneia was expanded by the GB well beyond its scripturally determined parameters. In 1974, “oral and anal sex and other lewd practices” inside marriage were said to be porneia. This view was completely reversed in 1978. But in 1983 there was a partial reversal of the reversal of 1978. While it is true that anal and oral sex were no longer viewed as porneia, these actions were, nonetheless, added to the list of disfellowshipping offenses. In 1983, porneia was also expanded to include bestiality as well as the fondling of the genitals of a person to whom one is not married. In 2018, simulations of sexual acts without skin-to-skin contact were also defined as porneia.

If we look at adulterous marriages in the light of the different viewpoints presented above, we understand that because of human commandments made up and invented by the GB “Scriptural freedom to remarry” has meant different things at different times. For example, in 1974, a wife could tell the elders that her husband several times had performed oral sex on her against her will. On this basis, she could demand that the marriage be dissolved, with the elders’ blessing, and whether the husband was disfellowshipped or not, she was free to remarry.

In 2018, the wife could tell the elders that her husband was receiving lap dances. She has asked him several times to stop because she feels that this is a betrayal of their marital union. Two elders have also spoken to him, asking him to stop. But he has continued. On the basis of her husband’s lap dance practices, she asks the elders to sanction her decision to pursue divorce and be free to remarry.

Concluding this section, I point to the quotation above in bold red script. The only action between a man and a woman that can be defined as porneia is that they become “one flesh” by sexual intercourse. No passage in the Christian Greek Scriptures shows that porneia has any other reference between persons of the opposite sex. In addition to porneia between persons of different sexes, there is also one reference to porneia between persons of the same sex, i.e., homosexual acts.

Because of the restrictive meaning of porneia in the Christian Greek Scriptures, the members of the GB have great accountability before Jehovah for adding meanings to the word porneia that are not found or even hinted at, in the Scriptures. Because of this, a great number of marriages have been dissolved on non-Scriptural grounds, and a great number of persons have been disfellowshipped because of the personal viewpoints of the members of the GB.

EVIDENCE THAT CAN BE USED TO PROVE ADULTERY

According to the Shepherd book, the elders function as judges in cases involving allegations of adultery, and chapter 12.73 says:

If a baptized Christian who accuses his believing mate of adultery and wishes to establish freedom to divorce and remarry approaches an elder, the matter should be referred to the body of elders. The accuser is not free unless the evidence establishing wrongdoing is sufficient to warrant the formation of a judicial committee on the charge of por·nei’a. (Deut.19.15; John 8:17) …The publisher should be advised that he is not to view himself Scripturally free until the elders have investigated the matter and guilt of por·nei’a is established.

The elders are leading the congregation, and it is logical that they consider cases involving allegations of adultery. They will make the decision whether a Witness is free to remarry or not, and this may also have a negative side. The Shepherd book, chapter 12, point 39 (5), shows that the elders can make a decision regarding the secular work of a Witness contrary to his or her conscience and will. If they decide that his work makes him an accomplice of a condemned practice, he or she will be disfellowshipped if the work is not discontinued within six months.

The power given to the elders in connection with the work of a Witness is a violation of the freedom the Bible has given to all Christians. When the elders have the final word in connection with the freedom to remarry, there may also be a violation of Christian freedom. One example is chapter 12, point 75:

Even if the accused mate is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses (disfellowshipped, disassociated, or never baptized), two witnesses are also generally required to establish wrongdoing that would provide a basis for Scriptural freedom. An exception may be made, however, if the unbeliever privately makes an unambiguous confession of adultery to the Christian mate. In such a case, if the innocent Christian mate believes that the confession is true and does not wish to reconcile, he can submit a letter to the elders outlining the situation. The body of elders should then consider the letter. Is there any known reason to conclude other than that the unbelieving mate has been immoral? For example, was the confession worded ambiguously? Did the unbeliever later deny making the confession? If the unbeliever is willing to speak with the elders and the matters are unclear, the elders may choose to ask the accused mate directly. If there is no known reason to conclude otherwise, the innocent mate can be allowed to take responsibility before Jehovah for obtaining a Scriptural divorce: if he remarries, no judicial action will be taken.

If a married Witness says that his or her mate has admitted to committing adultery, the elders should accept that without further questions. That he must write a letter to the elders in this connection will serve as evidence if questions about the issue are ever raised in the future. But I find the instruction that the elders must evaluate the letter to be an unnecessary grant of power. If, as the GB acknowledges, “the innocent mate can be allowed to take responsibility before Jehovah for obtaining a Scriptural divorce” in certain instances, he or she can be allowed to take responsibility in all instances. Yes, the word of a Witness should be accepted without any questions; he or she is responsible before Jehovah.

More problematic is the acceptance of “evidence” that does not meet the Bible’s requirement for evidence. Chapter 12, point 74, says:

In some cases adultery is not established. However, the accused may confess or two eyewitnesses may report that the accused stayed all night in the same house with a person of the opposite sex (or a known homosexual) under improper circumstances. (See 12:7-9.) The elders should carefully consider the situation. (See 12:7.1) Although the elders cannot tell the innocent mate that he is free to remarry, if the innocent mate is convinced that adultery did occur, the elders may allow him to take the responsibility before Jehovah for obtaining a Scriptural divorce; if he remarries, no judicial action will be taken.

God’s requirement is that something is proven when there are two or three eyewitnesses, and circumstantial evidence cannot be used. There are not two witnesses to porneia when two persons spend the night in the same house because the witnesses of this have not directly seen any evidence of sexual immorality Thus point 74 violates the principles of the Bible.[1]

[1]. This issue is discussed in detail in the article “Circumstantial evidence for porneia” in the category “Different actions.”

WHAT DOES “REJECTION BY THE INNOCENT MATE”  MEAN?

When Jesus in Matthew 19:9 says that a man can divorce his mate on the basis of sexual immorality (porneia), he shows that the initiative must be taken by the innocent mate. The innocent mate can choose to continue the marriage relationship, or he or she can reject the guilty mate.

This rejection is expressed if the innocent mate initiates a divorce. But there is one situation where the innocent mate continues to live together with the guilty mate in order to “punish” the guilty mate by refusing to have sexual relations with him or her. The Shepherd book chapter 12, point 76.3 says:

The following constitutes rejection by the innocent mate:…

Though verbally expressing forgiveness and not seeking a divorce, the innocent mate refuses to resume sexual relations for a very prolonged period of time, a year or even years. Before indicating to the guilty mate that he is free to pursue a Scriptural divorce, the elders should consult the Service Department. The innocent mate is not required to make a quick decision to forgive or not.

The quotation above is an example of the unreasonableness of some of the rules that are made by the Governing Body. The rule that the innocent mate is not required to make a quick decision to forgive or not, is contrary to the word of Jesus in Matthew 5:25 (above) and 7:12 (in the top middle), and the words of Paul in Ephesians 4:26 (bottom middle)  and 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 (below).

Be quick to settle matters with your legal opponent, while you are with him on the way there.

“All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you,  you also must do to them.”

Be wrathful, but do not sin; do not let the sun set while you are still angry.

 Let the husband give to his wife her due, and let the wife also do likewise to her husband.  The wife does not have authority over her own body, but her husband does; likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but his wife does. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent for an appointed time, so that you may devote time to prayer and may come together again, in order that Satan may not keep tempting you for your lack of self-control.  However, I say this by way of concession, not as a command.

It is logical that matters of dispute should be settled quickly. As long as a matter is unsettled, there is a strain on both parties. Particularly if both the husband and the wife are Christians, it is important to apply love and reasonableness to solve an issue.

To dissolve a marriage is a big step, and if the outcome of your future life was based on another person’s decision, you would be happy if that decision was made quickly. If you were the one who had the right to make the final decision, you should think of your own reaction if you were in the other person’s place—and follow the words of Jesus. If your mate has committed adultery, you will be angry, and that is understandable. But the point of Paul is that you should not continue to be angry over a long period of time.

The advice that the innocent mate can refuse to resume sexual relations with the guilty mate for “a year or even years”, before having to come to a decision to forgive the guilty mate or not is, in my view, an outrageous allotment of time. It is a violation of the four scriptures quoted above, and it shows a complete lack of agape (love based on principles) for the guilty but repentant mate.

Of course, it may take a while to overcome the hurt and resentment resulting from such a betrayal and to regain a measure of trust in the guilty mate, especially if the wife is the innocent victim. Still, this would not justify sexually ignoring the guilty mate for “a year or even years” until all negative feelings have been resolved. A clear decision to forgive can be made well ahead of divesting oneself of all residual negative feelings that may linger. In keeping with this, the intention of the innocent mate to forgive the guilty mate should be in evidence ‘quickly,’ even before sexual relations are resumed.

For example: Is an innocent wife open to communication with her husband? Has she expressed in words or by her actions that she is willing to make a real attempt to reestablish a bond with him? Has she and her husband discussed issues that may have facilitated the temptation to stray in the first place (1 Cor 7:5)? Are they both willing to work at improving their marriage going forward? In other words, is there any indication that reestablishing the “one flesh” sexual bond is at least pending in the near future?

Therefore, if an innocent mate, because of implacable anger and resentment, refuses to at least begin taking steps to re-establish the “one flesh” sexual bond with his or her mate within a very short time, this is a clear indication of rejection by the innocent mate. It is self-evident that an ongoing effort on the part of an innocent wife to communicate with and forgive her repentant husband, will manifest itself in her being able to resume sexual relations with her husband within a few months at the latest—not “a year or even years” as stipulated by the GB. It is understandable that some wives will not be able to overcome the betrayal and resume sexual relations with their husbands in such cases, and it is their God-given right not to do so. However, based on the Scriptures quoted above, I would say that if a decision to forgive is not made within a very short time, and the “one flesh” bond of sexual relations is not restored shortly thereafter—within a couple of months or so, this would constitute a clear rejection of the guilty mate and should be acknowledged as such by the elders.

The Service Department has been more and more involved in judicial cases in recent years. This is a problem because the brothers in the Service Department do not know all the details of the situation. So, they must give their advice on the limited information they often end up getting. And because this information may only cover one side of the case, the feedback given by the Service Department may turn out to be the wrong advice.

Again, the ramifications of the GB’s time-frame rule of “a year or even years” and the role of the elders and the Service Department in the matters are that Christian freedom in the congregations has been greatly curtailed. This is so because the decision of how long an innocent mate can refuse to resume sexual relations without the marriage being dissolved rests with the elders and the Service Department.

FREEDOM TO REMARRY OR NO FREEDOM TO REMARRY

In this section, I will make a synthesis of the procedures of remarriage, as they are expressed in the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The role of the elders

Because the elders are the leaders of each congregation, it is logical that the evidence of adultery is presented to them. When clear evidence justifying a Scriptural divorce is presented, the elders will know that a member of the congregation is free to remarry.

However, in connection with circumstantial evidence, there is a difference in procedure in chapter 12 of the Shepherd book. The situation presented is one in which two witnesses have seen a member of the congregation stay all night in the same house as another person. The first quotation below (point 7) relates to one member of the congregation, and the second quotation (point 74) relates to the husband or wife of a member of the congregation.

After two elders have thoroughly investigated, the body of elders must use good judgment in determining whether serious wrongdoing has occurred.

Although the elders cannot tell the innocent mate that he is free to remarry [because his mate spent all night in the same house as another person], if the innocent mate is convinced that adultery did occur, the elders may allow him to take the responsibility before Jehovah for obtaining a Scriptural divorce; if he remarries, no judicial action is will be taken.

In the first example, the elders decide whether the strong circumstantial evidence shows that sexual immorality has occurred. In the second example, the elders do not make any judgment. But they let the mate of the one who stayed in the house all night make the judgment. And the elders will accept the judgment of the mate. What is the basis of this difference? It does not say, and I do not know.

Both examples are violations of the biblical principles dealing with the evidence for wrongdoing because circumstantial evidence is no evidence from the standpoint of God. But the fact that the elders let the mate exercise his Christian freedom to decide should also be applied in other situations—this should be the status quo in the congregations, and not an arbitrary exception.

The role of the innocent mate

In two situations, the responsibility before Jehovah is placed on the shoulders of the innocent mate. He must decide whether he believes a personal confession of sexual immorality from his mate or not. This is a situation where two witnesses are impossible, and we will always believe the words of a dedicated Christian. In effect, the Christian views Jehovah as his second witness to the confession and can, therefore, conscientiously act on it. And the responsibility and accountability before Jehovah, like the decision itself, resides with the Christian.

The other situation, however, violates Christian principles. If two witnesses confirm that the wife or husband spent the night in the same house of another person, that does not prove sexual immorality. Nevertheless, the GB says the mate is allowed to decide whether sexual immorality occurred. And if he decides that it has occurred, he is free to remarry.

As I showed above, the elders give the innocent mate a long time to decide whether to forgive the guilty mate or not—“a year or even years”. And this is a violation of the Bible principles mentioned above. We may also compare this rule made by the GB with the judicial system of democratic nations, and this rule is a violation of the rights of the guilty mate according to “Habeas corpus.”

Habeas corpus is the legal principle that a person who is taken into custody has the right to appear before a court before a particular amount of time has passed, so the court can decide whether the detention is right. According to Norwegian law, a person must appear before a court at the latest on the third day after his detention.

Let us apply this legal principle of Habeas corpus to the rule of the GB. I will again use the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5.

  Let the husband give to his wife her due, and let the wife also do likewise to her husband.  The wife does not have authority over her own body, but her husband does; likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but his wife does. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent for an appointed time, so that you may devote time to prayer and may come together again, in order that Satan may not keep tempting you for your lack of self-control.  However, I say this by way of concession, not as a command.

The Creator has given humans a sexual drive, and because of this, married persons should not deprive each other of sexual contact, except for some time by mutual consent. In the case of an innocent mate who is depriving the guilty mate of sexual contact for “a year or even years,” there is no mutual consent. And let us not overlook the elephant in the room here: Ironically, the purpose of Paul’s counsel quoted above is for the very purpose of precluding the possibility of sexual infidelity on the part of each marriage mate. The GB’s arbitrary, and unscriptural, allotment of a “year or even years” before sexual relations must resume contradicts Paul’s inspired advice and fosters further temptation for both the innocent and guilty mates in an already volatile situation.

If we look at the situation in the light of Habeas corpus, we can say that the innocent mate has taken the guilty mate into the custody of “no sexual relations.” According to the rule of the GB, the guilty mate does not have the right to Habeas corpus, namely, to let a court decide within a short time whether the custody is right or wrong. The court, in this case, is the innocent mate. He or she must decide whether the custody and detention of “no sexual relations” shall end by dissolving the marriage or by resuming a sexual relationship. And he or she is allowed to extend the custody for “a year or even years.” This is a violation of the principles of Habeas corpus. Just as the deadline for appearing before a court in Norway is three days, I would, as I have written above, set the deadline of the sexual custody of the guilty mate before he or she “appears before the court” to a very short time. In other words, a clear decision to forgive the guilty mate should be stated and in evidence within a very short time, and sexual relations, as a symbol of that forgiveness, should be restored within a couple of months or so at the latest.

 Is there really an adulterous marriage?

The expression “adulterous marriage” is rather odious and creates bad connotations. A marriage is a lasting union between a man and a woman, and so, is it correct to say that this whole lasting union should be typecast as an “adulterous marriage” because it had a dubious start in connection with actions that disregarded the laws of God?

Let us consider a few situations. According to Norwegian law, a person who will marry someone must either be unmarried or divorced. If two Christians are divorced for reasons that are not based on the Bible, they are not biblically free to marry again. However, the Shepherd book, chapter 12. point 72 says:

For example, if an individual contemplating remarriage confesses that he has been guilty of sexual immorality after his former mate legally divorced him or if his former mate has admitted to committing sexual immorality since the legal divorce, both are Scripturally free to remarry.

We can never play with God because he can read our hearts. Nevertheless, the “one flesh” bond of sexual union is a law of God that is set in stone, regardless of the intentions of humans who may attempt to manipulate it. In other words, God’s law regarding marriage and divorce is immutable and binding regardless of another’s motivations. Therefore, if a person is not free to remarry, he can have a sexual relationship with someone before he remarries, and then he is free to remarry according to God’s law. He or she could even have sexual relations with his or her prospective marriage partner while unmarried with the same outcome. To be sure, they have committed another sin against God, porneia in this case, but in so doing they have both become Scripturally free to remarry. Therefore, in the cases mentioned above, his or her new marriage is not an “adulterous marriage” according to the terminology of the Shepherd book.

In connection with remarriage, when a person is not Scripturally free to remarry, does the expression “adulterous marriage” mean that every time the marriage partners have sexual relations, they are committing adultery? The Awake! magazine of 8 November 1970, page 28 says:

. . . to be free in the eyes of God to remarry, not only must one have a legal divorce but it must be based on Scriptural grounds​—infidelity on the part of the mate. But suppose one divorced and remarried without knowing about this Scriptural condition and so violated it? What can one do? Separate? No. In having had sex relations with the new mate validity was given to the divorce, so that the first marriage is no longer Scripturally binding, a Scriptural basis being given to the legal divorce. True, such was a sin; but it can be forgiven if sincerely repented of, as can other sins committed in ignorance, and if you show your sincerity by living up to the responsibilities that are now yours as a married person.

The quotation above shows correctly that even when a person that is not Scripturally free to remarry marries again, it is only the first sexual encounter between the marriage partners that is, per definition, considered adultery. When a Witness who is not free to remarry marries again, this is not based on ignorance as in the example mentioned in the quotation above. His remarriage is based on a conscious decision or plan. Still, it is only the first sexual encounter between the two marriage partners that, from the point of view of the Bible, constitutes adultery. This is what was meant when I said earlier that ‘God’s law regarding marriage and divorce is immutable and binding regardless of another’s intentions or motivations’—good or bad.

From my point of view, therefore, the expression “adulterous marriage” is an unfitting description of a marriage where one or both partners were not Scripturally free to remarry. True, they committed an act of adultery and so should feel regret and repent of this sin before God. That said, having severed the “one flesh” bond of their previous marriages by their one act of adultery, their new legal marriage becomes Scripturally binding through the consummation of a new “one flesh” bond by means of their sexual union. From this point on, their marriage is a new and legitimate one recognized by God, and so cannot, hereafter, be labeled an “adulterous marriage”.

When the guilty marriage partner disagrees with the elders

Now I will discuss the authority and power of the elders as the long arm of the brothers in the Service Department, who represent the long arm of the law of the GB versus the authority and power of each individual Witness.

The elders have the responsibility to take the lead in their congregation, to help the congregation members to follow the laws and principles of God, and to be forerunners in the preaching work. That the elders would also oversee the marriages entered into by the members of the congregation would naturally be a part of their duty.

But what happens if a Witness or a Witness couple disagrees with the elders? The elders will always win because they have dictatorial power over the congregation members on many issues, such as marriages.

I will use two examples. Suppose that a brother approaches the elders and says: “When we dated, my wife committed an act of sexual immorality with another man. She did not tell me at the time. But I learned about it later. But she was acting strangely because her conscience was bothering her. Recently, I saw my wife enter the house of a man that I do not know. I stayed outside for six hours, and she did not come out. After that, my wife started behaving exactly the same way she did when she committed sexual immorality with another man when we dated, so I am certain that she has committed sexual immorality again.

If there are two witnesses that my wife was in the same house, during the night, as the man I’m telling you about, I am allowed to take this as evidence of sexual immorality. Therefore, I take my wife’s behavior as evidence of sexual immorality, and I am free to remarry. I will write this down in a letter to you.”

On this basis, would the elders accept that the marriage could be dissolved and that the husband was free to remarry?  There is little difference between this situation and the other situation where the wife was in the same house as a man for one night. In neither case were there two eyewitnesses of sexual immorality, but the circumstantial evidence points in the same direction. I do not think that the body of elders in any congregations would accept that the brother was free to remarry in this example. And if he did remarry, he would be disfellowshipped.

From God’s standpoint, the brother was not free to remarry because there were not two eyewitnesses. But from the standpoint of chapter 12, point 74 of the Shepherd book, the situation with the brother was very similar to the situation where the elders allowed the sister to judge that there was sexual immorality. So if the one situation was accepted, the other should be accepted as well. But the difference is that the first situation is outlined in the Shepherd book, but the scenario of the brother that I just presented above is not. And the elders, in a slavish way, follow the Shepherd book.

The other situation deals with evidence for the rejection of the guilty mate. A Witness is guilty of adultery, and he is completely broken up about it. He tells it to his wife and says that he regrets very much what he has done. He says that the wife has the full right to dissolve the marriage, and he will accept her decision in this regard.

The wife says that she is shocked and that she feels that his behavior is a betrayal of her. She will consider the situation over the next couple of days, and then she will let him know what she has decided. The next day she speaks to her husband, and says that she still loves him, that she has forgiven him, and that she will not dissolve their marriage. The husband is very happy, and he promises never to betray her again.

However, several days pass, and she does not want to have sexual relation with him. Then two weeks pass, and a month, and still she refuses to have sexual relations with him. He asks her if she really has forgiven him, and her answer is positive. But she says that the elders informed her that the Shepherd book says that she is not required to make a quick decision regarding her final forgiveness and that at least one year must pass without sexual relations before this can be used as evidence that she has not forgiven him and will dissolve the marriage.

Because the husband feels guilty about what he has done and out of consideration for the delicate emotions of his wife, he accepts this. However, after allowing a couple of months to pass, the husband asks her in a more insistent manner to resume their sexual relations as Paul admonishes couples to do in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5. But she still refuses, reminding him that she still has at least a year to go before she must decide to resume sexual relations with him. The husband then says that this is a problem for him and that he feels that if she is still unwilling to restore their sexual relations, he must conclude that she has not forgiven him, and therefore, he will act accordingly and dissolve the marriage. She again says that she has at least one year to consider taking up sexual relations. The elders speak with the wife. And she says that she needs several months, perhaps a year or longer, to consider resuming sexual relations with her husband again. That is her right, she says.

When the husband gets this information, he takes this as evidence that she has not forgiven him and wants to dissolve the marriage. He applies for a divorce, and after he gets his divorce, he marries another woman. Is this an adulterous marriage? I think that most elders would say Yes and disfellowship the man because of the information in the Shepherd book regarding the GB’s arbitrary allotted time frame of “a year or even years.”

The two examples above show that the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses today has become autocratic. The Christian freedom that individual Witnesses had for four decades after World War II is gone. Today the elders, the Service Department, and the Governing Body have dictatorial powers, and any Witness who disagrees with these “authorities” will be punished. This is also the case in connection with the dissolving of marriages and divorce, as I have shown, and in connection with “adulterous marriages”.

CONCLUSION

In order to be Scripturally free to remarry, three requirements must be fulfilled, 1) there must be adultery, 2) the innocent mate must reject the guilty mate, and 3) there must be a legal divorce. The human commandments of the GB have created problems with requirements 1) and 2).

Adultery is porneia, and the GB has claimed that nine different actions are porneia. Two of these, anal and oral sex inside the marriage, have been retracted because the GB has admitted that they should never have been included. The four actions, artificial insemination, bestiality, fondling of the genitals of a person to whom one is not married, and porneia without skin-to-skin contact, are made up and invented by the GB without any biblical support. Only three actions are based on the Bible, namely, sexual intercourse between a married person and one to whom he or she is not married, sexual intercourse between unmarried persons, and homosexuality.

Because of the human commandments of the GB, the meaning of porneia has been different at different times. And a great number of marriages have been dissolved and many marriage partners have been disfellowshipped for reasons that have no support in the Bible.

The human commandments of the GB have also caused problems in connection with requirement 2). Contrary to clear biblical admonitions, the GB has created the rule that an innocent mate can wait “a year or even years” before she “decides” whether to reject the guilty mate so the marriage can be dissolved. It is completely unacceptable to keep the guilty mate on the rack for so long a time.

The conclusion is that the GB allows the dissolving of marriage for other reasons than porneia —the three references of porneia in the Christian Greek Scriptures. On the other hand, the GB allows the innocent mate to wait for a long time before he or she needs to decide whether to reject the guilty mate or not. Both procedures do not accord with the principles of the Bible.

Rolf Furuli

Author Rolf Furuli

More posts by Rolf Furuli

Leave a Reply