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What Did the Early Church Leaders Teach About
Divorce and Remarriage?

Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D.

Divorce is at an all time high in our American culture today, and in fact, divorce is even a fraction of a percentage higher within marriages where the two people claim to be Christians. What’s going on? I believe at the root of this problem is the theological double-talk that flows from the mouths of preachers in our land on the issue of divorce and remarriage. The "relaxed church" has an aversion to the preaching of absolutes of the Bible on many sin issues and especially on the sin of divorce and remarriage. In fact, Christians within those "relaxed churches," it is just as Paul wrote to Timothy, "will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." (1 Timothy 4:3-4) I want to dispel a fable about what the Early Church believed about divorce and remarriage.

For the first five centuries the Church of Jesus Christ virtually spoke with a unified voice on the issue of divorce and remarriage. Marriage was a permanent bond broken only by death (Mark 10:6-12, Romans 7:2). However, there are those today who are skeptical and say surely the early Church leaders must have allowed for exceptions, citing Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9. I do have an answer for the skeptics. George Wenham wrote in his scholarly article, The Biblical Way of Marriage and Divorce, #3, "Careful research through the hundreds of manuscripts by church leaders of the first five centuries has revealed that with only one exception (Ambrosiaster, a fourth-century Latin writer), the Church Fathers were unanimous in their understanding that Christ and Paul taught that if one were to suffer the misfortune of divorce, remarriage was not permitted, regardless of the cause." (Third Way (London), November 17, 1977).

The early Church pastors said that it was clear from the words of Christ that even if divorce occurred, there was clearly no room for remarriage for Matthew 19:9 says, "And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery."

It should be noted that this is the only reasonable view in light of the disciples response in verse 10 – "His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry."

The position of the early Fathers is clear: God intended marriage to be a permanent bond. If divorce does occur, the Lord forbade remarriage even when immorality was involved! There are only two biblical alternatives for one who is divorced. First, either remain unmarried or, second be reconciled to your spouse. This is supported by 1 Corinthians 7:11 "But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife."

Historically, there is no doubt that this was the standard view of the Christian Church until the 16th century. I believe it is time forsake the theological double talk and compromise of the "relaxed church" and get back to teaching what the Early Church taught about divorce and remarriage, for, I believe that is what Christ and Paul taught. There can be no doubt that God hates divorce for we read that clearly in Malachi 2:13-16 "And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand. 14 Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. 15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. 16 For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away [divorce]: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously."

If divorce occurs, do not add sin to sin by remarrying, but rather remain unmarried or else be reconciled to your spouse.

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