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Is Marriage
Covenant
Legislation?
One of the most forceful and persuasive presentations of an inaccurate position on divorce and
remarriage is J.D. Bales’ NOT UNDER BONDAGE. Although acknowledging the many fine
articles and books to come from the pen of brother Bales, NOT UNDER BONDAGE is a
disservice to the truth.

A major plank in the position presented by brother Bales is:

Moses’ legislation on divorce and remarriage was legislation for those in the old covenant. It is
my conviction that Christ’s legislation on this subject is for marriages between Christians, and
not for aliens, or for a mixed marriage (p.44)

Moses’ law on divorce and remarriage was given to the covenant people (Ex. 20:1; Deut. 5:2-3),
for it was part of the old covenant, and not to the non-covenant people. Why should it be
surprising that Christ’s legislation is for married people in His covenant, not outside of it? (p. 46)

In explaining how those outside the covenant law of Christ could sin, Bales, under the
subheading ADULTERY POSSIBLE BEFORE CONVERSION? (1 COR. 6:0-11), says:
Paul said adultery, and a number of other sins, had been committed by the Corinthians before
their conversion. Does this prove that prior to conversion the Corinthians were under Christ’s
new covenant law? Answer: First, it it does, it does not disprove my case o 1 Corinthians 7:12-
15 since Paul clearly established that Christ’s law on marriage was for two believers, and not
for others. (7:10-11,12).

Second, Paul did not say here what law these Corinthians violated – whether Christ’s, Moses’,
or the law on the heart (Rom. 2:12-15). Paul did not say Christ’s law was bound on them prior to
conversion (p. 148).

Thus, Bales sees three laws having been in effect during the period of written revelation:
Moses’ law for the Jews, the law on the heart for the non-covenant people, and Christ’s law for
Christians. Two of these, Bales sees as being in effect during the time of the old covenant,
three as being in effect during the time immediately following the cross, and two in effect now.

Bales states:
… the New Testament teaches that the law of Moses had been abolished. Nowhere does the
New Testament teach that the law under which the non-covenant people lived (Rom. 1:18-2:15)
has been abolished. This law could not be abolished without abolishing moral law and the very
nature of man himself (p. 151).

Therefore, he teaches that those who are not Christians are under “the law of the heart,” and the
Christians are under the law of Christ, the New Testament.

Bales goes on to say:
Of course, we know that the law on the heart was never sufficient to justify the sinner, although it
was sufficient to show that man is a sinner. The unwritten and unrevealed (unrevealed to the
Gentiles) law of Romans 1:18-2:15 is still the law under which non-covenant people live and it
is the law which will condemn them if they do not accept pardon and redemption which is
offered through Christ and His new covenant (p. 169).

There are three basic mistakes Bales makes in regard to his position on Matthew 19:9 being
covenant legislation.
1)        His concept of the relation of revelation and morality;
2)        His explanation of the law on the heart (Romans 2:12-16); and
3)        His understanding of what the definition of “covenant” is in relation to the New Covenant.

1)        Revelation and Morality.

In the beginning when God made man and woman, “they were both naked the man and his
wife, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). They knew not the difference between good and
evil until they ate of the fruit. Revelation from God is necessary to know good and evil; man does
not innately know what is right and wrong.

Paul reveals of the Gentiles in
Romans 1:18-25 – “For the wrath of God is revealed from
heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in
unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God
hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are
clearly seen, being understood by that things that are made, even his eternal power and
Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they
glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and
their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and
changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and
to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to
uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between
themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the
creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.”

God’s existence and power may be gained from nature; but, not morality. It is when the Gentiles
knew not God and followed “their own hearts,” their own understanding, that they “became
fools” and dishonored their own bodies. The knowledge of God and his revelation brought
moral action; to forget God and his revelation was to become without moral compunction and
moral law. Yet, God’s revelation of morality through the patriarchs and prophets was sufficiently
known for even the Gentiles to know of God’s judgment (Romans 1:28-32).

2)        The Law On The Heart (Romans 2:12-16)
Paul begins the second chapter of Romans castigating the Jews who judged the Gentiles,
condemning them for doing the same things the Jews were doing. It is not what a man is born,
but what he does that God will judge. “For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many
as have sinned without the law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in
the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the
doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature
the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which
shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their
thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) in the day when God shall
judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel (Romans 2:11-16).

Those who were born Gentiles will perish in their sin, for they were “aliens from the
commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and
without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Forgiveness, “the promise of eternal inheritance”
(Hebrews 9:15), was found in the covenant God had made with Israel. Yet, it was not in being
born under the covenant that that promise was secured; it was in obedience to the law. When
the Gentile, who had not been given the law, did what the law commanded, they did what was
right, and were acceptable in that. This shows the works of the law, the law of Moses, were
written on their hearts. This knowledge of right and wrong, which coincides with the law either
condemns or commends them, depending upon whether they obey or disobey it. Those who
sin shall be condemned at the judgment of Jesus whether they are Jew or Gentile.

“The work of the law written on their hearts” is not a reference to a knowledge of good and evil
born in man. The Gentile may by nature, or naturally, without the law of Moses, do what the law
commands. When they do, they are right in what they do. They have not a law “written on their
hearts,” but “the work of the law.” That is, they have actions which the law commands “written on
their hearts,” or placed in their minds and emotions to guide their actions. This “work” is “the
things contained in the law,” not a separate law. “The law” is a reference to the law of Moses,
the Old Covenant. Again, all Paul is saying is: “When a man obeys the law, and does what is
right, he is acceptable whether a Jew or a Gentile.” All sin shall be condemned, and all
righteousness shall be accepted.

Note the comments of the Gospel Advocate’s A COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT
EPISTLES BY DAVID LIPSCOMB, EDITED WITH ADDITIONAL NOTES BY J.W. SHEPHERD,
VOL. I, ROMANS:
“12 For as many as have sinned without the law shall also perish without the law: -- The
Gentiles had been without law, yet sinned. They were without law because they were gross
sinners, and refused to honor the Lawgiver and obey the law. During all the ages of the Jewish
nation any Gentile could come under and obey the law by becoming a Jew. Then so soon as
Gentiles were willing to obey God they were blessed. If the Gentiles, who were without law, sin,
God will punish without the law because they would not obey the law.
“And as many as have sinned under the law shall be judged by the law; -- But if the Jews under
the law sin, they will be condemned by the law, and so perish. All who sin, whether within the
law or without the law, perish. If any who are not under the law, the Gentiles, come to know the
things that are in the law, and of their own choice do the things of the the law, they become a
law unto themselves, and, doing the things contained in the law of their own free will, show that
the works required by the law are written in their hearts. They obey the lawnot because they are
under the law, but because in their hearts they love the things contained in the law, so they will
be saved by the law. All persons out of Christ are in a lost condition, and can be saved only by
the redemption that is found in Christ.
“13 for not the hearers of the law are just before God, -- The Jews heard the law, but did not
obey it. Hearing the law will not help a man unless he obeys it. For a man to hear the law and
refuse to do it renders him less excusable and more worthy of stripes. ‘And that servent, who
knew his lord’s will, shall be beaten with many stripes.’ (Luke 12:47.)
“but the doers of the law shall be justified – Only those who do the law will be justified by the law.
“14 (for when Gentiles that have not the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having
the law, are the law unto themselves; -- The reference here made is to the law of Moses. This
does not imply that the Gentiles, who do not know the law, can obey the law which the Jews with
the knowledge of God could not keep. But in vindication of the justice of this dealing with the
Gentiles, he assumes that even though God did not give the law to them, yet when they did by
nature, not by command, the things of the law, they became a law unto themselves, and were
accepted. Many Gentiles, like Cornelius, living among the Jews and the holiness of his law,
while not formally coming under it, rendered homage to it without becoming Jews. In the days of
Solomon there were one hundred fifty-three thousand six hundred such persons in Judah. (2
Chron. 2:17)
“15 in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, -- Those who, while not under the
law, yet keep it, show that it is written on their hearts. Their affections have taken hold of it, and
they do it because they, from the heart, fear God and his law. This cannot mean that their hearts
prompted them to do what was in the law while ignorant of it, but that the heart, –  the
understanding, the will, the affections – would embrace the law, and then they would obey the
law of the new covenant because they loved God. So this means that the Gentiles might know
the law, and while it was not given to them, they might from the love of it keep it, and in so doing
became a law unto themselves.
“their conscience bearing witness therewith, -- Their conscience in such cases would bear
witness to their love and obedience to the law, for conscience is a witness of what passes
within the heart.”

As brother Thomas B. Warren has stated:
“Bales simply does not understand Rom. 2:14-15. The passage says nothing about a law
which is different from and other than the gospel (law) of Christ being written on the heart of the
non-Christian. The context of Rom 2:14-15 shows that the expression ‘have not the law’ refers
to the fact that Gentiles did not have the law of Moses. The Jews had a written law (the law of
Moses); the Gentiles (at that time – i.e., before the day of Pentecost) did not have a written law
from God. Since Pentecost, all men (whether Jew or Gentile, whether Christian or non-
Christian) have one – and only one – written law from God: the Gospel (law) of Christ. But Bales
fails – as did Fuqua – to see that Rom. 2:14-15 refers to the time anterior to the Gospel
dispensation. Now, neither Jew nor Gentile has (is under) the law of Moses. In Rom. 2:14-15,
Paul is not contrasting Christians with non-Christians (as Bales alleges). Rather, he was
contrasting the ante-Pentecostal Jew with the ante-Pentecostal non-Jew (Gentile).” [KEEPING
THE LOCK IN WEDLOCK; Thomas B. Warren; National Christian Press, Inc.; 1980; p. 329]

Yet, even if one accepts Bales’ explanation of “the work of the law written on their hearts,” as
does E.M. Zerr,
“It must be remembered that all of the aforesaid comments about the two laws apply to the
years before the giving of the Gospel of Christ. After that, all persons everywhere were
commanded to be subject to that universal law. (See Acts 10:35 and 17:31.)” [BIBLE
COMMENTARY, VOL. V; E.M. Zerr; p. 352]

No matter what position is assumed on “the work of the law written on their hearts,” it needs to
be recognized that we are now under the universal law of the New Testament. God “in times
past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16). “And the times of this ignorance
God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:” (Acts 17:30). For the
gospel of Christ “is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth: to the Jew first,
and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). The gospel is to be proclaimed “to every creature” in all
the world (Mark 16:15). For Jesus said: “And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it
behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and
remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem
(Luke 24:46,46). Therefore, as men are judged in the day of reckoning, it shall be by the gospel
of Christ, his doctrine, the New Testament. Our Lord said, “And if any man hear my words, and
believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that
rejected me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have
spoken, the name shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:47,48). Therefore, it is by the gospel,
the doctrine of Christ, the New Testament, that all the world shall be judged.

3)        The Definition of Covenant.

Much is made of the phrase “in covenant relationship” when speaking of Matthew 19:9; yet, its
usage betrays a misunderstanding of the word covenant as used in the New Testament, or the
Bible in general. Covenant is translated from berith in the Old Testament, and diatheke in the
New Testament. Berith is translated confederacy (2 times), Covenant (260) times, league (15
times), and be in league (2 times). Diatheke is translated covenant (20 times) and testament
(13+ times). For the purposes of this study we shall concentrate on diatheke and covenant as
used in the New Testament, especially in Hebrews 8 and 9.

The word covenant is defined in English: by FUNK AND WAGNALL’S STANDARD DESK
DICTIONARY –
“1. An agreement entered into by two or more persons or parties; a compact. 2. Theol The
promise of God, to bless those who obey him and fulfill some other condition. 3. Law A written
agreement, as a contract, under seal” (p. 147; Vol I).
Defined by WEBSTER’S SEVENTH NEW COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY –
“1: a usu. Formal, solemn, and binding agreement: COMPACT 2a: a written agreement or
promise usu. Under seal between two or more parties esp. for the performance of some action
…” (p. 192).

Thus, generally convenant is an agreement made by both parties such as a signed contract.
However, a convenant can also be a promise given under seal for a second party who needs to
meet the conditions of the promise to reap its benefits, yet who are under the covenant (or a part
of the covenant) whether they agree to its conditions or not. As FUNK AND WAGNALL’S
dictionary points out, it is the second of these definitions in use in religion as we speak of the
covenants of God.

Especially the New Covenant is spoken of in these terms. The New Covenant is God’s promise
of salvation sealed with the blood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 8,9). Covenant and testament are
used interchangeably in Hebrews 9; and, their usage indicated a unilateral promise that is
conditional upon the response of those the promise is given to, and the promise of salvation is
open to “whosoever will” (Revelation 22:17).

A testament is a will. Hebrews 9:16,17 reads: For where a testament is, there must also of
necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise
it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. Men do not have to agree to a will to be under it,
but they must obey its conditions to reap its benefits. Thus, just because a covenant is given
does not mean it is accepted; but, just because it is not accepted does not mean it is not given.
The covenant of Christ was given to all, and includes all, whether they accept it or not. If they
accept it, they will reap its benefits by their obedience, even as did Israel under the old covenant;
and, if they reject it, they will reap its damnation by their disobedience, even as did Israel under
the old covenant.

Diatheke is defined by GEORGE RICKER BERRY –
“(1) a will or testament, a disposition, as of property, Gal. iii.15; Heb. Ix.16,17; (2) a compact or
covenant between God and man (see Gen. vi,ix,xv,xvii; Exod. Xxiv; Deut. V. xxviii). The two
covenants mentioned, Gal. iv.24; that of the O.T. is termed e prote d., He. 9.16,17; Gal. 3/15; that
of the N.T., e kaine d., Lu. xii.20. The O.T. itself (e palaia d., 2 Cor. iii.14) as containing the first,
and the N.T. as containing the second, are each called diatheke” (p. 25).
Diatheke is defined by The ANALYTICAL GREEK LEXICON –
“a testamentary disposition, will; a covenant, He. 9.16,17; Gal. 3.15; in N.T. a covenant of God
with men, Gal. 3.17; 4.24; He. 9.4; Mat. 26.28; et al; the writings of the old covenant, 2 Cor. 3.14”
(p. 96).

Diatheke is defined by THAYER’S GREEK-ENGLISH LEXICON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT –
“1. A disposition, arrangement, of any sort which one wishes to be valid, … Gal. iii.15, where
under the name of a man’s disposition is meant specifically a testament, so far forth as it is a
specimen and example of that disposition …; esp. the last disposal which one makes of his
earthly possessions after his death, a testament or will (so in Grk. Writ. Fr. [Arstph.], Plat. Legg.
11 p. 922 c. sqq. Down): Heb. ix.16 sq. 2. … As the new and far more excellent bond of
friendship which God in the Messiah’s time would enter into with the people of Israel is called
…, kaine daitheke (Jer. Xxxvii. (xxxi.)31), -- which divine promise Christ has made good (Heb. viii.
8-10; x.16), -- we find in the N.T. two distinct covenants spoken of, duo diatheke (Gal. iv.24), viz.
the Mosaic and the Christian, with the former of which (te prote diatheke, Heb. ix.15,18,cf. viii.9)
the latter is contrasted, as kaine diatheke, Mt. xxvi.28; Mk. Xiv.24 …; Lu. xxii.20 …; 1 Co. xi.25; 2
Co. iii.6; Heb. viii.8, kreitton diatheke, Heb. vii.22, aionios diatheke, Heb. xiii.20; and Christ is
called kreitionos or kaines or neaas diathekes mesites: Heb. vii.6; ix.15; xii.24. This new
covenant binds men to exercise faith in Christ, and God promises them grace and salvation
eternal. This covenant Christ set up and ratified by undergoing death; hence the phrase to aima
tes kaines diathekes, to alma mou tes deathekes, my blood by the shedding of which the
covenant is established, Mt. xxvi.28 … and Mk. xiv.24 …  By metonymy of the contained for the
container e palaia diatheke is used in 2 Co. iii.14 of the sacred books of the O.T. because in
them the conditions and principles of the older covenant were recorded. Finally must be noted
the amphibody or twofold use [cf. Philo de mut. Nom. #6] by which the writer to the Hebrews, in
ix.16 sq., substitutes for the meaning covenant which diatheke bears elsewhere in the Ep. That
of testament because the author regards eternal blessedness as an inheritance bequeathed
by Christ, but also because he is endeavoring to show, both that the attainment of eternal
salvation is made possible for the disciples of Christ by his death (ix.15), and that even the
Mosaic covenant had been consecrated by blood (18 sqq.)” (pp.136-7).

Diatheke is defined by AN EXPOSITORY DICTIONARY OF NEW TESTAMENT WORDS by W.E.
Vine –
“DIATHEKE … primarily signifies a disposition of property by will or otherwise. In its use in the
Sept., it is the rendering of a Hebrew word meaning a covenant or agreement (from a verb
signifying to cut or divide, in allusion to a sacrificial custom in connection with covenant-making,
e.g., Gen. 15:10, ‘divided’ Jer. 34:18,19). In contradistinction to the English word ‘covenant’ (lit.,
a coming together), which signifies a mutual understanding between two parties or more, each
binding himself to fulfill obligations, it does not in itself contain the idea of joint obligation, it
mostly signifies an obligation undertaken by a single person. For instance, in Gal. 3:17 it is
used as an alternative to a ‘promise’ (vv.16,17 and 18). God enjoined upon Abraham the rite of
circumcision, but His promise to Abraham, here called a covenant, was not conditional upon
the observance of circumcision, though a penalty attached to its non-observance. The N.T. uses
of the word may be analyzed as follows: (a) a promise or undertaking, human or divine, Gal. 3:
15; (b) a promise or undertaking on the part of God, Luke 1:72; Acts 3:25; Rom. 9:4; 11:27; Gal.
3:17; Eph. 2:12; Heb. 7:22; 8:6,8,10; 10:16; (c) an agreement, a mutual undertaking, between
God and Israel, see. Deut. 29 and 30 (described as a ‘commandment,’ Heb. 7:18, cp. Ver 22);
Heb. 8:9; 9:20; (d) by metonymy, the token of the covenant, or promise, made to Abraham, Acts 7:
8; (e) by metonymy, the record of the covenant, 2 Cor. 3:144; Heb. 9:4; cp. Rev. 11:19; (f) the
basis, established by the death of Christ, on which the salvation of men is secured, Matt. 26:28;
Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6; Heb. 10:29; 12:24; 13:20. This covenant is
called the ‘new,’ Heb. 9:15, the ‘second,” 8:7, the ‘better,’ 7:22 …” (pp. 242-3).

All of these definitions show that it is not necessary for man to agree to the new covenant for
him to be subject to it. A covenant can, and is in the case of the New Covenant, a unilateral
declaration which men are under.

Since the New Covenant is addressed to all men, both Jew and Gentile, Christian and
unbeliever (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:44-48), all men are under the covenant;
but, only those who are obedient to it shall enjoy its rewards.

CONCLUSION

There is no basis upon which to place Matthew 19:9 as applying only to Christians. The
covenant of Christ is to all men. There is no “law written on the heart” to judge non-Christians.
There is only one law, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:2). The covenant
of Christ is a unilateral declaration of God’s will to all men, both Christian and non-Christian.