Analysis of Bobby Holmes Lesson on Marriage and Divorce: When does a divorce occur? C. Kelly Wilson September 26, 2006
This article examines brother Bobby Holmes' contention contention that a divorce occurs when someone sends their mate 'out of the house'In this article, quotes from brethren are in maroon (italic and bold), scriptures are in red, and regular text is in blue. On quotes from brethren, the footnotes are hyperlinked to the document that contains the quote
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On June 26, 2005, brother Bobby Holmes taught a lesson entitled Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage at the Northside church of Christ in Mansfield, TX, which teaching I witnessed. Brother Holmes wanted to ensure that all were aware of the doctrine that he was teaching:

"...I have two reasons or purposes in presenting this lesson. Number one and foremost is to present to you what the word of God says and to make it clear to you so that we can all understand exactly what God says on the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage...The second reason is that I might go on record and I want it on record I want it on tape what I believe the scriptures teach on the subject that has been announced. I don't want anyone doubting what I believe about these things, not that what I believe is going to determine what is truth or error, but I want people to understand and I want it recorded as to what Bobby Holmes believes the scriptures teach..." 1

The lesson was the culmination of a slow, inexorable change in the doctrine that brother Holmes used to teach. I met with brother Holmes for 3 weeks, prior to his lesson on June 26, in an effort to reason with him concerning the doctrine he was ascribing to, but to no avail.

On Wednesday June 29, 2005, I sent brother Holmes an email voicing my objection to the doctrine that he had taught and my desire, since a private study had yielded no fruit, to have an open, public discourse with him on this subject in a format of his choosing; he refused. That same evening, in an impromptu business meeting with the men of the congregation, I offered to have a public discourse with brother Holmes again, but again he refused.

Efforts by several faithful brethren, including gospel preachers and elders, have not deterred brother Holmes in his determination to press his doctrine. This article will be one of two articles examining the doctrine that brother Holmes has adopted relating to the bible teaching on marriage and divorce.

This article will examine brother Holmes contentions concerning when a divorce occurs.

1"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <> p.1

The Arguments

Brother Holmes argues in his lesson that the divorce consists only of one sending their mate out of the house; the documentation of the divorce being irrelevant. He bases his conclusion on two points:

  • The decree and sending out of the house are mentioned separately in Matthew 19. For instance, he argued,

    "...But, I want you to take notice that the certificate was separate from the divorce. The certificate had to do with the court or the civil matter while the divorce itself had to do with the sending away..." 1

    In other words, he attempts to eliminate any connection in the Law of Moses between the civil procedure to obtain a divorce and the actual divorce by arguing that the sending away and the certificate of divorce are mentioned separately.

  • After reasoning that the divorce had nothing to do with the documentation under the Mosaic Law, he then argues that a present-day divorce is accomplished when the sending away is completed:

    "...When one mate leaves or sends their mate out of the house a divorce has taken place..." 2

Ironically, he then argues later in the lesson, in attempting to justify divorces for causes other than fornication, that the divorce is the decree, or piece of paper:

"...if then the marriage relationship will not allow one to serve the Lord, that person may need to seek a divorce, only a piece of paper , in order to serve God..." [my emphasis] 3

He further contradicts himself by saying that one must obtain the divorce documentation to remarry:

"...If she sends him away for fornication then the bond is broken, if she is going to file for divorce . Now look with me, can the innocent one remarry without going through the civil divorce? Absolutely not! Why? Because the law of the land in this must be followed or else she becomes a bigamist and she breaks the law of God..." [my emphasis] 4

Although the contradictory definitions illustrated in these quotes are obviously problematic, his position can be summarized as follows:

  • The certificate of divorce and the sending away of the wife are mentioned separately in Matt. 19:9 and thus, have no connection to each other. When one sends their mate "...out of the house..." a divorce has taken place.
  • While he argues that one divorces their mate when they send them out of the house, he then argues that if one is going to remarry, then they must obtain another divorce, a civil divorce , before they can remarry. Thus, he argues that when someone sends their mate out of the house (as he reasons, divorces their mate) they are not free to marry again at that point.

What does God say about these conclusions?

1"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <> p.3

2"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <> p.9

3"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <> p.13

4"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <> p.9

Does God teach a "sending-away" only divorce?

Brother Holmes argued that the "...sending away..." constituted the divorce in Matt. 19:3-9.

"...But, I want you to take notice that the certificate was separate from the divorce. The certificate had to do with the court or the civil matter while the divorce itself had to do with the sending away..." 1

Before we examine whether the scriptures teach this, let us consider some facts that God's Word teaches about exegesis and defining words from the scriptures.

The scriptures teach that we must define a word within its context. For instance, the word adultery , in most scriptural contexts, references illicit sexual intercourse with someone other than their lawful mate. However, in some contexts, God defines adultery as spiritual unfaithfulness:

"...For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. With their idols they have committed adultery, and they have even offered up to them for food the children whom they had borne to me..." Ezekiel 23:37 (ESV)

In the above passage, God says that the children of Israel had committed adultery "...with their idols..." Does this mean that they were having sexual intercourse with the carved images? The context clearly shows that God is referring to Israel's spiritual unfaithfulness to the Lord. Obviously, if we define the word adultery in this passage out of context, we are going to present an absurdity.

Another example of a contextual definition is the following passage from John:

"...Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, 'Rabbi, eat.' [32] But he said to them, 'I have food to eat that you do not know about.' [33] So the disciples said to one another, 'Has anyone brought him something to eat?' [34] Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work...'" John 4:31-34 (ESV) [my emphasis]

We understand that the word food would ordinarily mean that which we would consume for nourishment. However, if we try to define the word food in the above passage using that definition, we are going to have an absurdity. Jesus clearly designates that the word food in the above passage refers to the work that God gave Him to do, not consumed nourishment.

Thus, the scriptures dictate that a passage's context must dictate a word's definition, not the other way around. Many are violating this bible principle in regards to the definition of divorce in Matt. 19 and the use of the Greek word apaluo.

Many are asserting that the word apaluo (a generic term that can mean several things, depending on the context), as used in Matt. 19:3-9, means "sending-away" only and has no reference to a procedure under the Mosaic Law. Consider the following from Matthew 19:

  • The Pharisees asked the Lord if it was lawful for a man to divorce (apaluo) their wives for just any cause (v.3)
  • The Pharisees asked why Moses commanded for them to give their wives a writing of divorce and send them away (apaluo; v.7)
  • Jesus answers that Moses, because of their hard hearts, allowed them to divorce (apaluo) their wives (v.8)

The word apaluo can have a generic meaning of sending-away; as it is used to define the phrase "...put her away..." in v.7.

However, in v.3, the word apaluo is used to define the word divorce as the Pharisees' asked the question:

"...And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, 'Is it lawful to divorce [apaluo] one's wife for any cause..?'" Matthew 19:3 (ESV) [my emphasis]

What does the text say constituted the divorce (Greek word apaluo ) that the Pharisees were referring to? We find the answer in v.7, in which the Pharisees state the procedure allowed by the Mosaic Law:

"...They said to him, 'Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away ....?'" Matthew 19:7 (ESV) [my emphasis]

The command of Moses (and thus of God) if one was going to divorce their wife was that both components were necessary, the certificate of divorce and the sending-away.

1"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <> p.3

Furthermore, in Matt. 19:8 the Lord Jesus affirms the procedure articulated by the Pharisees in v.7, and answers with one word in v.8, < apaluo , to refer to the entire process of divorce under the Law of Moses:

"...He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce [referring to both parts of the process under the Law of Moses in v.7] your wives, but from the beginning it was not so..." Matt. 19:8 (NKJV) [my emphasis]

If a sending-away was all that a man was required to do under the Law of Moses, then either the Lord Jesus made a gross misstatement, or he failed to correct the Pharisees because both He and they understood the Law of Moses to teach that both the putting away and the writing of divorce to be necessary to complete the divorce, which, according to brother Holmes, is incorrect: only the sending away constituted the divorce. The context shows that the Lord Jesus recognized the entire process as the divorce under the Old Testament. This misunderstanding occurs when we lift the generic word apaluo out of its context. It is also worthy to note that in Matt. 19:6 the Lord Jesus uses another word which obviously means divorce in this context:

"...therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate ..." Matt. 19:6 (NKJV) [my emphasis]

When the Lord uses the word separate, is he just referring to someone causing the lawfully married couple to not be together? In v.4-6, the Lord Jesus is answering the question posed to Him by the Pharisees in v.3 about whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause. Thus, when the Lord commanded that man is not to separate what God joined together, the context demands that the word separate mean divorce in this passage even though we recognize that it could have other meanings in other contexts.

Brother Holmes tried to establish that since the decree and the sending away were mentioned separately in v.7 of Matthew 19, that one is not dependent upon the other. However, note the following passages:

"...he who believes and is baptized shall be saved..." Mk. 16:16 (NKJV) [my emphasis]

"...Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out..." Acts 3:19 (NKJV) [my emphasis]

"...They said to Him, 'Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce and to put her away...'" Matt. 19:7 (NKJV) [my emphasis]

We would recognize that salvation is contingent upon both belief and baptism. We should also recognize that our sins being blotted out are contingent on both repentance and being converted. We are going to have to realize that under the Law of Moses, the divorce consisted of both the putting away and the writing of divorce. Brother Holmes's definition of divorce is in conflict with revealed scripture and thus is false.

Brother Holmes indicated that an individual who divorces their mate ( "...sends their mate out of the house..." using his definition) for the cause of fornication was not free to remarry yet. In other words, though this individual divorced their mate, they were not free to remarry without the writing of divorce. He concludes that there was a divorce and then a civil divorce.

"...If she sends him away for fornication then the bond is broken, if she is going to file for divorce . Now look with me, can the innocent one remarry without going through the civil divorce? Absolutely not! Why? Because the law of the land in this must be followed or else she becomes a bigamist and she breaks the law of God..."1

However, Jesus indicates in Matthew 19:9, by forced conclusion, that once a man divorced his wife, he was released from the marriage, whether the divorce was lawful or not and the woman who was divorced by her husband was no longer married. God would indeed condemn the unlawful divorce and subsequent adulterous remarriage, if a remarriage followed an unlawful divorce, but once the divorce was completed, it was completed. When (under the Mosaic Law) was a divorce completed? When a man gave his wife a writing of divorce and sent her away (Matt. 19:7-8)!

"...And I say unto you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery: and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery..." Matthew 19:9 (KJV)

In other words, once you are divorced, the marriage is terminated, period, and we will search this and every other text in vain to find another, civil divorce after the divorce, which brother Holmes has asserted that one must have before they can remarry. Brother Holmes and the Lord Jesus do not agree. An action is not completed until it is completed. One is not baptized until they are baptized. One is not saved until they are saved. Similarly, one is not divorced until they are divorced. Again, the context clearly indicates that the writing of divorce was just as much a part of the process as the sending away.

Thus, both of brother Holmes' contentions are false:

  • He asserted that the divorce consisted of the sending-away . The text of Matt. 19:3-9 (and ever other text on this subject) affirm that a divorce under the Mosaic Law consisted both of a certificate and sending-away.
  • He asserted that a second, post-sending-away civil divorce is necessary for one to remarry. Jesus asserts that the one and only divorce (defined as the certificate of divorce and sending-away under the Law of Moses) terminates the marriage and in the case where one lawfully divorces their mate for their mate's fornication, that one may lawfully marry another after that one divorce.

1"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <> p.9

We come to the final point about the definition of divorce. Is there a divine protocol concerning divorce today? Under the Law of Moses, God's commandments dealt not only with the spiritual elements, but also with civil law. For instance, the Law dealt with such civil matters as what happened when a man's ox fell into an uncovered pit (Ex. 21:33). As well, God delivered a civil procedure concerning how a divorce was to take place (Deut. 24:1-4).

Brother Holmes contended that Jesus never dealt with the civil procedure (or civil courts , to use his words) in Mt. 19:

"...In Matthew 19 the Lord not one single time in justifying a divorce is referring to the civil courts.The Lord never dealt with the civil court. I say to you whoever puts away his wife, except for fornication and marries another commits adultery. He is not talking about the civil courts. He is talking about this right here. The sending out of the house, the divorce the putting away the sundering of that marriage..." 1

This argument completely ignores and violates the context of the passage. As the scriptures have already established, both the Pharisees and the Lord Jesus acknowledged that God's civil procedure for obtaining a divorce consisted of a writing of divorce and sending the mate away . The fact that Jesus is dealing primarily with unlawful divorce in this passage does not in any way diminish the fact that Jesus acknowledges the procedure by which a divorce occurred. Furthermore, the context shows that the Lord Jesus did not have to deal with the procedure which God had instituted for divorce (Deut. 24:1-4) because all under the Mosaic Law, which included the Pharisees and the Lord Jesus, understood what the procedure was. Thus, contrary to brother Holmes argument in footnote number 8 above, the Lord Jesus not only acknowledged God's civil procedure, but that procedure was reiterated in the passage.

As Christians, we do not live directly under God's civil law as the Mosaic Law has been eliminated (Col. 2:14), but consider what civil law God says that we are under:

"...Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God..." Rom. 13:1-4 (NKJV)

"...Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good..." 1 Pet. 2:13-14 (NKJV)

Thus, the above passages clearly indicate that God has relegated these civil matters to the earthly governments under the New Testament. Two civil regulations that Christians are to submit to are how marriages are entered into and how divorces are obtained. It is worthy to note that God's Word recognized the marriage and divorce procedures of other governments, a prominent example being the divorce (not mentioned, but understood in accordance with Roman law) of Herodias from her husband Phillip and her subsequent remarriage to Herod (Mark 6:16-18). While John the baptizer clearly told Herod by the Spirit that it was unlawful for him to have (married) Herodias, the procedure by which she obtained the divorce was valid and the subsequent ungodly marriage was, in fact, a marriage.

As a final note, some are arguing that when I or another individual contend that we have to abide by the civil authorities determination of when a divorce occurs that we are trying to "...subvert God's law to man's law..." using such emotional appeals to fairness such as: "...It's not fair that the husband could so easily divorce his wife..." or "...surely God does not accept that farce of a divorce that the husband obtained against his innocent wife..." This type of fairness reasoning is bereft of any scriptural support. Although Brother Holmes did not argue this way in his lesson, this reasoning is gaining popularity among brethren. Consider what the Lord Himself said about those misusing His divorce procedure under the Mosaic Law:

"...And this is the second thing you do: You cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and crying; So He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. 14Yet you say, 'For what reason?' Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. 16'For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one's garment with violence,' Says the Lord of hosts. 'Therefore take heed to your spirit that you do not deal treacherously...'" Malachi 2:13-16 (NKJV)

God is clearly condemning the practice of the men dealing treacherously and unfairly with their wives by divorcing them. Did God then reason due to this unrighteousness, "... we need to stop this unfair procedure of divorce! We need to make divorce simply sending one's mate out of the house to give the woman the right to divorce also ..."? This scripture and others indicate the ungodliness being perpetrated on the women of the children of Israel, but the procedure was still the same: the man gave his wife a writing of divorce and sent her away. The issue was not the procedure for the divorce, but the hardness of the hearts that attempted to exploit the procedure and justify divorce for any cause. However, God clearly confirms that the procedure was valid and that treacherous divorces were occurring due to hard hearts. Similarly, when someone obtains a divorce using the procedures ordained by the government (which God has ordained), with or without just cause, a divorce has occurred, and not before. Consider 1 Cor. 7:10:

"...Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. 11But even if she does depart let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife..." 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 (NKJV)

This passage indicates that the woman who violates the Lord's command and was previously married is now unmarried, or divorced . This Corinthian woman (or man) would have obtained this divorce, although unlawful, by the ordinance of the civil government where they lived, most likely the Roman government in this case. Thus, such appeals to fairness that attempt to circumvent the civil laws of the divorce procedure are wholly without scriptural merit. When one obtains a divorce under the civil ordinances, whether that action is lawful or not, that divorce is called a divorce by God's word.

In summarizing Brother Holmes's definition of divorce:

  • He failed to define the word apaluo in its context and thus concluded that the divorce only consisted of the sending away. Jesus affirms that the entire procedure (the writing of the divorce and the sending away) constituted a divorce under the Mosaic Law. Brother Holmes's definition does not agree with scripture.
  • He affirms that even when the divorce has happened ( only the sending away, according to the definition he used) for a cause of fornication, then the innocent is not free to remarry yet, but they must obtain another , civil divorce to free them to remarry. Jesus denies this as the context shows that once a divorce is completed, it has severed the marriage; no further action is necessary or even possible . If the innocent divorced the guilty fornicator, then that individual was free to remarry immediately; this innocent party, contrary to brother Holmes argument, would not have had to obtain another, civil divorce.
  • He correctly concluded that the governing authorities have jurisdiction in the matter of divorce, but he inexplicably applied this only to the individual who wished to remarry. We do not live under the direct civil law of God as the Israelites did, but rather under the civil governments which He has ordained (Rom. 13:1-2). It is these civil governments that have jurisdiction over when a divorce occurs, and the Christian is to submit himself to those ordinances concerning divorce procedure or he will be guilty of resisting the ordinance of God (Rom. 13:2).

1"Transcript of Bobby Holmes lesson Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage." Pillar of Truth Magazine. 2 December 2006. <> p.9


Brother Holmes has taught false doctrine and has affirmed his false teaching in spite of efforts to turn him away from it. The one who brings false teaching is guilty of causing divisions in the Lord's church:

"...I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. [18] For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve..." Romans 16:17-18 (ESV)

The scriptures instruct us that we are to speak the same thing and be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

"...Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment..." 1 Corinthians 1:10 (NKJV)

May we heed the Lord's command, speak as the oracles of God and give Him the glory (I. Pet. 4:11).

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