1 Corinthians 7 (The Early Church Fathers on Divorce and Remarriage)

[This is long enough for at least two posts, but given its nature, I thought it would be more helpful to the readers to post this all at once and then skip a day. And I’m posting this from the hospital. I have had kidney stones once again — removed this morning by an unspeakable procedure using the only available orifice through which to one might remove such things. So any mistakes are the fault of the pills I’m on.]

1corinthiansIt’s commonly stated that the early church fathers (ECFs) (generally, orthodox uninspired Christian writers from the late First Century until Augustine in the Fourth Century) support the traditional view of the Churches of Christ of divorce and remarriage. Let’s see whether that is so.

Unless otherwise noted, my source is On the Divorce Teachings of the Early Church. Obviously, the early church fathers have no canonical or other authority, especially in a community that lives by “We’re silent where the scriptures are silent.” Nonetheless, the argument is often made to buttress certain conclusions about the biblical text and wouldn’t be brought up at all unless early church teachings were considered by its proponents to carry some exegetical authority.[1]

I am enough of a Campbellite to reject the notion that early church teaching carries any more authority than Calvin, Luther, Stone, Campbell, Wright, or Hauerwas, but I thought it would be a helpful exercise to see what truth there is behind the claim that the early church fathers support the Church of Christ interpretation.

Shepherd of Hermas (circa 125 AD)

The connections between Jesus and Hermas are anybody’s guess, but they cannot have been direct. In the “Mandate” section of his Shepherd, a work that bears striking similarity in language to Gospel material but is claimed by its author to have been given by direct revelation to him by his “heavenly guardian,” Hermas makes the following points:

1. Failure to divorce a recognized, adulterous wife is complicitous adultery (v. 5).

2. Failure of a disciplining husband to remain unmarried is adultery (v. 6).

3. Failure of a disciplining husband to forgive a repentant wife is a sin worse than adultery (v. 8).

4. The reason that remarriage is prohibited of the disciplining spouse is that remarriage blocks repentance (v. 10).

… The stated reason for the prohibition of remarriage is that it inhibits full repentance.

(HTML coding errors corrected).

Notice that there is no scriptural basis for the assertion that a husband must divorce an adulterous wife or that the sin in failure to divorce her is worse than the adultery itself.

On the other hand, point 4 is exactly consistent with my own understanding of the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5 regarding divorce and remarriage. The reason Jesus does not want a divorced spouse to remarry is because it prevents reconciliation, that is, repentance and forgiveness in the form of a restored marriage. It has nothing at all to do with the triangle theory, that is, the idea that God is a party to the marriage contract and so marriage is generally incapable of dissolution. (This is a legal fiction created by the Council of Trent.)

We’ll soon find that other ECFs agree as to the reason Jesus says remarriage by an innocent[2] spouse is “adultery.”

Justin Martyr (circa 150 AD)

It is then, far more reasonable to see Justin as condemning (1) lusting after a married woman and (2) marrying her subsequent to her being freed by divorce. Such a man should rather remain single than fulfill his lustful desires, and such a man should understand that whether he accomplishes his goal or only thinks about it, he is guilty of the same sin of adultery before God. Roman law might not hold a man guilty of offense for lusting after his neighbor’s wife or for marrying her were she to manage to free herself from her husband, but the Bible does. But Justin does not condemn the remarriage of a disciplining [sinned-against] spouse (nor does he in the Second Apology), nor does he condemn the remarriage of an innocently divorced spouse. His condemnations are always in the context of a woman’s legitimate marriage; that marriage should not be broken up in thought or by action by the man to whom Justin refers (and condemns).

Justin’s views are consistent with my own. I agree that Jesus condemns those who lust after another while married and so divorce in order to gain someone else. I think that’s clearly Jesus’ point — and I’m proud that a great mind such as Justin’s agrees with me.[3]

And I’m hardly surprised to find that Justin does not condemn the second marriage, except when it results from adultery (in the form of actual adultery or that lust that is adultery) against the first marriage.

Athenagoras (circa A.D. 177)

Athenagoras is the next significant Father. His teachings on the subject are found in his Plea for the Christian:

A person should either remain as he was born, or be content with one marriage; for a second marriage is only a specious adultery. “For whosoever puts away his wife,” says He, “and marries another, commits adultery”; not permitting a man to send her away whose virginity he has brought to an end, nor to many again. For he who deprives himself of his first wife, even though she be dead, is a cloaked adulterer, resisting the hand of God, because in the beginning God made one man and one woman, and dissolving the strictest union of flesh with flesh, formed for the intercourse of the race.

Obviously, we’ve reached an age where Greek asceticism (resulting from Platonic thought) begins to creep into the discussion. Obviously, God does not prohibit a second marriage after a death. Romans 7:2-3 is quite clear. And Athenagoras was surely well enough informed by the scriptures to have known this. Rather, he allowed his ascetic worldview to override the plain teachings of scripture.

Notice that his worldview is hidden by being very selective regarding the verses he deals with. He ignores the Gospels and finds the rule he expects in Genesis 2 as though Genesis 2 might somehow overrule Jesus. We make the same error when we suppose that Jesus might overrule Paul or that one Gospel might overrule another. The true interpretation fits all the texts and the sound exegete wrestles with them all.

Theophilus of Antioch (circa A.D. 180)

The relevant chapter in Theophilus’ work is entirely in the context of coveting another man’s wife. It begins with a reference to lustful looks at another’s wife, moves through a quote of Proverbs 4:25 (condemning lustful looks), through a quote of Matthew 5:28, to the inverted quote of Matthew 5:32, and ends with a quote from Proverbs (6:27-29) that once more condemns taking another man’s wife. What seems obvious is that Theophilus is condemning remarriage when it is to a woman who has been wrongfully taken from another man. The lustful look takes heart in the fact that the object of desire has been freed by divorce (probably instigated by the woman and the coveting man). Theophilus condemns such “legal adultery.” And he condemns the man who unjustly divorces his wife as well!

Theophilus of Antioch is similar to Justin Martyr.

Irenaeus (circa 185)

In Against Heresies, Irenaeus, a crucial Eastern Father (also influenced by Justin) depreciates divorce since it was given because of the hard hearts of men. He seems to say that it is incompatible with the original intent of God in Genesis 2:24.

Although Irenaeus wrote extensively on Christian topics, he never directly addresses divorce and remarriage except to reference principles that both I and the traditional view agree on.

Clement of Alexandria (circa 153-217)

In his Stromata (11.23), he discusses the matter of divorce. The progression of topics is as follows:

1. Affirmation of pure marriage, as a necessity for some.
2. Statement that the Scriptures “allow no release from the union.”
3. A quote giving the gist of the Matthew 19:9 prohibition of divorce, ending with the “except clause.”
4. Statement that Scripture regards the remarriage of those separated during the lifetime of their spouse as “fornication.”
5. Statement of the need for the wife to avoid activities that suggest fornication.
6. A quote giving the gist of Matthew 5:32 (reversing the sayings). 7. The interpretation that the putting away sets the woman up for adultery in remarriage—the second marriage inhibiting a restoration.
8. A comparison of these Gospel ideas to the execution of adulteresses in the Law–harmonizing the two by calling the (divorced?) adulteress “dead to the commandments,” while the repentant one is born again. …

It seems best, therefore, to interpret Clement as believing that adultery in the marriage severs it and “kills” the adulterer. The “dead” may be put away without the fear that their remarriage would bring the charge of complicity in adultery against the disciplining [innocent] divorcer, and such a divorcer who does not have the gift of celibacy may remarry.

Again, following Justin Martyr, Jesus is interpreted as disapproving remarriage following a divorce obtained in order to marry another. Moreover, the innocent party may remarry. Clement doesn’t speak to the guilty party who is, in his mind, dead to Christ anyway. (Grace for sexual sin was becoming hard to find by this time.)

And so this isn’t really the traditional Church of Christ perspective, as we’ve never taught that adultery is unforgivable. We have a split of opinion as to whether the innocent spouse may remarry and as to whether the guilty spouse may remarry, but most hold that the guilty spouse may not remarry until the innocent spouse dies or remarries — although even this view is not unanimously held.

Because Clement considers the innocent spouse to be unable to remarry, he and I disagree. But he also disagrees with the vast majority of Church of Christ interpreters.

Tertullian (circa 155-220)

The first great theologian of the West, Tertullian, was an outstanding spokesman for the permanence of marriage. In his famous On Monogamy, written during his Montanist period, he makes soundings, like Athenagoras, that marriage lasts past the grave. In that vein, and in the same book, the marriage of widows is prohibited on grounds … that such remarriage is incestuous.

To my knowledge, no one in the Churches of Christ takes the view that a widow or widower may not remarry. Clearly, Athanagoras and Tertullian are inconsistent with any viewpoint from within the Churches of Christ, my own included.

Origen (circa 185-254)

[Origen] speaks of Christ as divorcing Israel and (re)marrying the Church, a clear case of disciplinary divorce followed by remarriage. And, in those passages, Origen insists that Christ, in doing so, did not break the commandment not to sunder the “one-flesh” union, because he had the grounds of “fornication,” grounds that Origen identifies as “reasonable” for the “dissolution of marriage.” We have in Origen, then, a Father who did not believe in the indissolubility of marriage, who did believe that one could and should divorce (not merely “separate”) if one had the grounds of fornication, and who believed that one who divorced as a discipline could morally remarry.

These are all positions as to which the traditional view and I agree, except that some traditionalists deny the innocent party to remarry. Origen does not.

On the other hand, Origen is quite wrong to imagine that Jesus divorced Israel. The Gentiles were granted into Israel (Rom 11). Here we see an element of anti-Semitism creeping in after the Bar Kokhba rebellion. All of Gentile Rome, Christian and non-Christian, sought to distance themselves from the Jews after that bloody war.

Ambrosiaster (circa 366-383)

[C]ommenting on 1 Corinthians 7, he goes beyond the disciplinary divorce theme to affirm the right of the innocent husband to remarry. He does not permit this for the innocent wife, however. His rationale centers upon the headship role of the male in marriage. He also allows for a deserted Christian spouse (male or female) to remarry. This is the first clear instance of a Father teaching the so-called Pauline privilege.

His making a distinction between husband and wife plainly runs contrary to the theology of 1 Corinthians 7. And I’d be very surprised if a single Church of Christ commentator agreed with Ambrosiaster on this point.

The Council of Aries (314)

The tenth canon of the Council of Aries states:

As regards those who find their wives to be guilty of adultery, and who being Christian are, though young men, forbidden to marry, we decree that, so far as may be, counsel be given them not to take other wives, while their own, though guilty of adultery, are yet living.

Here we have a plain denunciation of remarriage of the innocent spouse — contrary to my own views and to most Church of Christ teaching.

Augustine (354-430)

It is probably from this Father that we find the first clear teaching of marriage as a sacramental bond of indissoluble strength and permanent duration. Making his points in discussions of the three “goods” of marriage, he says (only) of Christian marriages that, based upon the analogy of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:32), we should see marriage as a living union, in which there is “no divorce, no separation for ever.”Augustine thought that marriage was a sacrament because the Vulgate translated “mystery” as sacramentum, and it is Augustine himself who is credited with giving this term its present Church meaning, “an outward and temporal sign of an inward and enduring grace.” Marriage was a moral obligation and a sacred sign of the union between Christ and the Church. Because of this bonding, the marriage partners were placed under moral obligation to keep their marriage inviolate. … It is also clear, however, that Augustine is opposed to the remarriage of the innocent spouse in the case of disciplinary divorce. In Adulterous Marriages, he insists that the synoptic writers must agree that all who divorce and remarry are guilty of adultery. And, in the same work, we read of his negative response to the more liberal Pollentius, who advocated the remarriage of disciplinary divorcers.

In short, Augustine denies the right of the guilty or innocent party to remarry. The marriage continues, in the eyes of God, despite the supposed divorce,  just as Christ’s marriage to the church cannot be dissolved.

In short, the ECFs disagree with every commonly held Church of Christ position as well as with me. However, they are closer, on the whole, to my views than the traditional views of the Churches of Christ. It is clearly untrue to claim that the ECFs support traditional Church of Christ teaching.

[1] In the Churches of Christ, we loudly denounce the use of the ECF’s when debating infant baptism or the monarchial bishop (a single bishop over a plurality of elders), and yet we gleefully argue from the ECF’s to persuade our members regarding the supposed sinfulness of instrumental music — and more recently, a conservative position as to divorce and remarriage. In both cases, we often make the arguments without bothering to actually study the ECFs in any depth, since “any port in a storm will do.”

[2] It’s popular among certain Church of Christ preachers to hold that there never is an “innocent” party, but this is far from true. First, the standard for innocence isn’t being the ideal spouse or sinless. Rather, Jesus is speaking specifically of adultery and implicitly of such major breaches of the marriage covenant as a failure to provide “food, clothing, or her marital rights” (Exo 21:10 ESV) (to be fairly interpreted in light of modern circumstances). See my But If You Do Marry and David Instone-Brewer’s Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context. Second, I’ve been an elder for over 10 years, and I know. Sometimes just one spouse is culpable — so much so that it would be cruel, even heartless, to treat a truly innocent spouse as guilty of breaking the marriage just to suit a theological position. We may not alter the facts to suit our theories.

[3] In fairness, I need to say that my view is that the prohibition on remarriage by the guilty party only applies to relationships or lust that was adulterous, that is, which arose during the first marriage. A spouse should not divorce in order to marry another. But once the divorce has become a settled state, if a new romance is kindled, which involves no violation of the first marriage, which is now over, if repentance has occurred, and if reconciliation is not possible practically (not legally), then I find no sin in the remarriage based on my reading of the Scriptures. “Repentance” means repentance from the sin of breaking covenants with one’s spouse. And so a penitent ex-spouse is forgiven and prepared to have a successful second marriage, assuming reconciliation is practically impossible as to the first.

Whether Justin Martyr agrees with me is not clear in his writings as he only addresses the specific case of a marriage ended in order to marry another. Later ECFs allow the guilty husband to remarry but not the guilty wife.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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42 Responses to 1 Corinthians 7 (The Early Church Fathers on Divorce and Remarriage)

  1. Jay wrote:

    To my knowledge, no one in the Churches of Christ takes the view that a widow or widower may not remarry. Clearly, Athanagoras and Tertullian are inconsistent with any viewpoint from within the Churches of Christ, my own included.

    I heard of such a case. An elder told me he and his fellow elders were interviewing a candidate they were considering inviting to preach for them.

    He informed them he could not work with them unless one of the elders stepped down because he was a widower and therefore not the husband of one wife. One of the group let the potential preacher know that the elder in question was soon to be married to the widow of a former elder. The candidate then said, that the man still could not be an elder because he would be the husband of two wives.

    As I said, I heard about this. I do not vouch for its veracity – but I do know some people who seem to hold two contrary opinions at the same time!

  2. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    I am aware of those who consider a man disqualified as elder if he remarries after becoming a widower. It’s the worst of legalism — utterly ignoring the redemptive purpose behind the command and looking to impose rules that even a lawyer would blush to suggest. And back when I walked in the paths of legalism, I knew many who took this position. I have no idea what the current thinking is.

  3. Dwight says:

    There are still some who are older that hold this view, but many don’t.

  4. R.J. says:

    I believe Al Maxey wrote a reflection on 1 Corinthians 7 regarding verse 9…

    “the wife must not divorce her husband. But if she has, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband”.

    As far as I can recall, he mentioned that translators have misinterpreted the grammatical syntax which rather signified that remarriage should take second place before reconciliation attempts fail with her former husband(I apologize to Al if I’ve misunderstood him).

  5. Dan Harris says:

    Jay, thanks for your study. I have a question about the reason for most divorces. It’s not adultery. As a counselor, I see people almost daily who contemplate divorce. In my practice the underlying problem is violence, verbal abuse, being over controlling with money or social contacts in such a way as to isolate the weak spouse, child abuse, or just plain being mean and ornery, unkind, demanding and demeaning. I have seen this bad treatment go on in each gender. Obviously I cannot suggest that one suffering in this way remain in the home. It would be dangerous. I always suggest couples therapy. And I nearly always suggest legal advice for the violence or theft of marital assets. Often remaining married to such a one only exposes the put upon spouse to financial and legal problems of their own since the marriage is still in effect, and likewise exposes the children to things that should not be seen or heard by them even if they are not directly involved.

    To me at least, the scripture is not clear or detailed enough to explain proper behavior in every possible circumstance, so I encourage a person to be as Christlike as possible to the best of their ability, while still preserving the safety of themselves and their children. My practice is secular, not a “Christian counseling” practice. If it is clear the client is not at all interested in the Biblical issues, I amend the above statement to “be as decent as possible” as this can only help them in the eyes of their children and the court.

    I’m not sure how all this fits into the ‘exception clause’ or if it does. It almost makes me think that this exception clause is referring only to a general rule of marriage that fidelity is a must or it is not a marriage only a form of adultery (i.e. open marriage, polygamy, swapping of sex partners, etc). Other types of mistreatment are a cause for divorce simply because we know that God’s love would not allow or hide mistreatment to a spouse and in such cases then the mistreated spouse is not bound by God to continue in this relationship and is not bound to forgo a meaningful marriage in the future. ………….. any thoughts? ………………………………… Dan

  6. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    I can’t lay my hands on Al’s book on MDR and can’t speak for him. But it’s clear that it’s God’s wish that a divorced couple seek to reconcile. And a second marriage makes reconciliation impossible. Obviously, there are cases where reconciliation would be dangerous for a spouse or otherwise unwise. The question of abuse isn’t in mind here.

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    I cover this in But If You Do Marry …. Per Instone-Brewer’s book on the Jewish background for the MDR teachings, the rabbis taught that either spouse could have a divorce if the other failed to provide his or her obligations under Exo 21:10. No school of thought disputed this right. The Hillel v. Shammai debate over grounds for divorce assume the Exo 21:10 grounds. The question is whether fornication was an additional ground or whether any ground at all could be added.

    (Ex 21:10 ESV) 10 If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights.

    Thus, Jesus, in commenting on the grounds for divorce, was commenting on the dispute between Shammai and Hillel, and so also assumed that the Exo 21:10 grounds were grounds for divorce. In fact, records of ancient rabinnic debates in the Talmud etc. were highly compressed and only included the issues being in dispute — and so Instone-Brewer argues that Jesus’ dust ups with the Pharisees similarly are highly compressed and don’t address issues not in dispute.

    It’s an excellent book: Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context

    More generally, I find it helpful to remember that the “putting away” was not the person who filed papers at the courthouse (there was no such practice) but the person who violated the marriage in some material way. Obviously, spousal abuse violates the marriage covenant and so the abuser “puts away” his wife when he abuses her. He is the guilty party, even if his wife files the papers to have the state recognize the marriage as broken.

  8. Dwight says:

    My sister is the innocent party in an abusive relationship who had to leave, because her husband lured her into marriage under a false pretense…that he was a sane and loving person. She is still his wife, but living far away, according to what I Cor.7:9 reflects, because even if she were to divorce him, they would still be man and wife and she cannot remarry, because it was not for sexual immorality or she must be reconciled to her husband. Even I Cor. aptly states that even after a divorce the man and wife state still exist between them unless it was a divorce for fornication.

  9. Dwight, it sounds like you consider your son-in-law to be the owner of your daughter’s contract, and that God enforces his ownership of her, under any and all circumstances, unless and until the day he decides to sleep with someone else and gets caught at it. Is that your view?

  10. Alabama John says:

    you need to hire a good looking whore to lure him into sex and then your sister will be free to marry.
    That’s what any good brother would do.

  11. Alabama John says:

    There are many ways to adulterate a marriage and sex is just one of them.

    Adulterating anything is the act of adultery and that can even be brought over to committing adultery by adding something foreign to wine or the word of God.

    There is a many ways to adulterate a marriage and many times sex is the one that would be preferred by the one being abused or hurt by the one committing adultery. Sex with someone else outside the marriage may be the one adultery doing the least harm to an individual or family.

  12. Dwight says:

    To Charles…owner no, but part of it. It is my sister. In the old days the contract was usually made between the man and the father of the daughter, but not always, but it takes two to agree. Also according to the OT Law only putting away was approved of for fornication and Jesus did not change this in the NT, but enforced it, as it was the exception. The Pharisees sought to expand the exception to anything. Divorce for any reason other than adultury still keeps them man and wife, which is why when one marries another they are committing adultury with another. This is what I understand.

    Maybe in Alabama, John, but here in Texas we would just hog tie him with barbed wire and then drag him through cactus behind a mustang (Ford), but unfortunately he lives in Arkansas.

  13. laymond says:

    I have often seen a glimmer of brilliance in the words of Alabama John. “Adulterating anything is the act of adultery and that can even be brought over to committing adultery by adding something foreign to wine or the word of God.”

    It seems we worry greatly over the adulterating of the marriage bed, but pay no attention to adulterating “The word of God” with our own opinion, which in my opinion comes mighty close, if not right down the center of blasphemy. And you know what they say about the blasphemy of God.

  14. Monty says:

    Had a sad call one day where a lady from another town, who grew up Baptist, she married a CofC fellow who had been previously married and divorced. He assured her that his divorce was legit because his ex-wife had committed adultery. So, they get married and are married for 14 years, attending church every week with their kids, in the CofC. One day, (I forget now), perhaps through a gospel meeting the husband has a for real “come to Jesus moment” and comes clean that his 1st wife had in fact not committed adultery. HIs then CofC preacher tells him in order to be right with God he now has to divorce his wife of 14 years, split up the family, because in God’s eyes, he’s still married to his 1st wife, even though she has since remarried. Love to hear what advice any of you would have given her. She of course didn’t want a divorce and the dissolution of their marriage. She wanted to know how I felt about it.

  15. Alabama John says:

    Stay together, protect the children and your faith in Gods grace and become baptist or progressive church of Christ.

  16. Dwight says:

    Sometimes we know the word of God too well for our own good because we don’t knwo how to use or understand it to the exclusion of other things. I guess the things to ask is why did he divorce his wife in the first place and then does he recognize that he was the one to commit adultery. Unfortunately he decived his wife and is in judgment for making her a part of his adultery. There are many times I would not agree with the preacher, but this may be one time I might. My brother-in-law committed adultery with another man, repented and lived with my sister and had three children before findign out he had AIDS and then he died seven years after the affair. It was tragic, but the results couldn’t be undone either way. I’m pretty sure he did not have the right to become the husband of another unless he was divorced or did the divorcing for fornication, but then he lied about it and then became the husband of another.

  17. mojohn says:

    Jay, thank you for posting this reply to the portion of my comment from August 9, 2014 at 11:04 am that addressed the early church fathers’ (ECF) understanding of divorce and subsequent marriage.

    Let me state for clarity that I believe the ECFs were not inspired by God. Also, I am willing to accept on the say-so of those who are more expert than me in interpreting the writings of the ECFs that at least some of the ECFs may have been unduly influenced by the Greek emphasis on asceticism.

    I offered their almost uniform understanding that the Scriptures do not permit either the “innocent” or the “guilty” to marry again following divorce as evidentiary, not authoritative. My use of the ECFs in this way is similar to how a number of our brothers have used their writings to support “our” position against use of instruments in corporate “worship.”

    As I understand Reformation history, Erasmus (joined by Luther and the rest of the main reformers) decided as a matter of fairness that the “innocent of adultery” spouse could divorce and be free to marry again. I find it interesting that the church “got it wrong” on divorce and subsequent marriage until then. But perhaps the church was also wrong for the next 450 or so years because there are a growing number of writers spanning the last 50 or so years who have pushed the envelope further to permit subsequent marriages following divorces for abandonment, abuse (both physical and emotional), and general “breach of covenant” (ala Instone-Brewer). Some of them also contend that the “guilty of adultery” spouse may also marry again.

    The question I have for Jay and the group is: Don’t you find it strange that scholars and other serious Bible students seem so willing to turn their backs on nearly 2000 years of church history and that this change of perspective closely tracks the explosion of divorce in society and in the church?

    I will post additional thoughts and questions over the next day or so.

  18. Dwight says:

    He might not have the right to call the new wife his wife as he is still boung to the other. He might be at the mercy of his real wife and her forgiveness and her putting him away as he was the reason. Matthew 19:10 has the disciples saying, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry” in response to Jesus teaching, meaning that while you might have taken a wife who is divorced (for any reason other than fornication) it would be adultery to have sexual relations with her since she is still technically the wife of another man.
    Where we go from here is a matter of addressing the quagmire we have made in the best possible way for everybody.

  19. Dwight says:

    MOJOHN, I would have to agree. If the ECF were inspired than which ones were inspired because they have arguments all over the place with many Greek concept influences and are often in contradiction to the scriptures. One of the biggest dissapoitments is when we pick and choose arguments from the ECF to add weight for or against scripture. In the case of wine, in order to condemn wine, the thoughts of the Romans/Greeks during the time of Christ are mined, even though they did not comment on Jewish practices, which were vastly different and they are taken out of context by those wishing to have a non-wine agenda. In regards to instrumental music we mine the ECF but refuse the same person in other things. You are very right. Back to wine, which was used up until the 1800s when Welch’s discovered how to pasteurize it, they knew only wine, not grape juice, but we take the words of the history revisionist in thsat they early people knew how to keep wine from fermenting as juice, even though they didn’t do it for 1800s years. We are influenced by those we wish to influenc us.

  20. Dwight, when the disciples said that, Jesus replied, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.” Are you requiring ALL to live by a standard Jesus said only some could receive?

  21. From Matthew 19:11-12 through 1 Cor 7:1-2 through the ECF to the Roman Church demanding an unmarried clergy, there is a thread of people forbidding others to marry as a matter of Christian dogma and/or practice. In 1 Tim 4:1-3 Paul labeled this “forbidding to marry” as “the doctrine of demons.”

    I would caution everyone to be very cautious before forbidding marriage through inferences and extensions to scripture drawn through man’s subjective logic. Otherwise, you might be guilty of teaching the doctrine of demons.

  22. Dwight says:

    No and I recognze this, but he did state it in such as a way to be recieved otherwise they wouldn’t have understood in that way. They got the implications. He didn’t say that some could recieve it if they were given it, but if they were given it they were to receive it. Who would receive it? Only those to whom it was given. Mind you that I think that many are condemened that God doesn’t condemn, but then again many abuse and will be condemned when they think they aren’t.
    Paul teaches against those who are condemning marriage as the Encratites did (also condemned drinking wine and eating of meats). This was a restriction for for the followers of the sects. Forbidding to marry was sexual union as they did teach that one could become man and wife, but that the sexual union of the flesh was sinful as was drinking and eating meat. Timothy was probably influenced by the Encratites in that he was actually told to drink wine by Paul as he was only drinking water, which was what the Encratites taught.

  23. mojohn says:

    Jerry, I appreciate your warning about teaching “a doctrine of demons” by cautioning against marrying again following a divorce. On the other hand, as a shepherd, I’m also concerned about loosing where God didn’t loose.

    Putting aside the exception clause recorded in Matthew for the moment, Jesus taught that a person who marries following a divorce commits adultery and the second spouse also commits adultery. It seems that recent (as in the last 50 years or so) teaching minimizes the seriousness of Jesus’ instruction.

  24. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Mojohn wrote,

    The question I have for Jay and the group is: Don’t you find it strange that scholars and other serious Bible students seem so willing to turn their backs on nearly 2000 years of church history and that this change of perspective closely tracks the explosion of divorce in society and in the church?

    I’m not so sure that the ECFs are as close to the traditional CoC view as you would have it. Pat Harrell published a study some 40 years ago showing that the ECFs never imposed their views on pre-conversion divorces. Some CoC preachers insist on the necessity of breaking up second marriages as a condition to baptism. So we need to sin in order to be saved? We need to put away a wife or husband, put children in a broken home, to be saved? A million ECFs won’t make that moral.

    Which ECFs am I supposed to follow? Augustine? Origen? Martyr? They don’t agree with each other. And don’t you perceive the obvious legalism in much of this? I mean, when the supposed rules work contrary to Christian principles of forgiveness, grace, and healing our brokenness, we’ve gone astray.

    It was the ECFs who held that there could be only limited forgiveness post-baptism. Some allowed none. Therefore, many believers — including Constantine himself — delayed baptism until near death. It was in this graceless, legalistic church culture that much of our MDR theology was developed — and it’s no surprise that it thrives in Churches of Christ in which “grace-unity” is considered a type of heresy.

    Meanwhile, Paul in 1 Cor 7 allows remarriage (as I’ve already explained in a recent post and will demonstrate further). That being the case, I find the ECF question pointless. I’d rather discuss Jesus and Paul.

    And I’ll not be impressed with an MDR theology that has doesn’t have roots that run deeply into a serious theology of sin, brokenness, redemption, grace, and the Spirit. When such words become unnecessary to our theology, our theology ceases to be Christian. And the traditional CoC view has none of such things.

  25. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    She should forgive her husband and work with him to rebuild trust. And they need to find a church that understands grace.

  26. Dwight opined, “Divorce for any reason other than adultury still keeps them man and wife,”

    Then it’s not really divorce, Dwight. Divorce has a pretty simple definition, the dissolution of a marriage. You can’t dissolve a marriage and have it remain intact at the same time. That’s not just bad doctrine, it’s bad physics.

  27. Dwight says:

    Charles, two men can get married, but it is not really marriage. Just because we say it is something by man’s laws doesn’t make it so in God’s eyes. Unfortunately we look at the rules on marriage from a European/Western point of view, but the Jewish point of view is different. If we go back to the Bible we see that there was something called betrothment and that this is where man and wife predominately began, this was the contract, as according to God’s law putting away for adultery could happen at this level. See Joseph & Mary. So man and wife and then they were married as they came together. This goes against how we think of things, but it is there reflected in scripture. So I go back to divorce for any reason other than adultery still keeps them man and wife, this is why when we marry another it is adultery. Otherwise it would be so. Adultery is where one has a sexual encounter outside of the relationship of man and wife, otherwise Jesus statements don’t make sense if the divorce had already dissolved the relationship.

  28. Dwight says:

    Just to back up my previous proposition, which I know goes against everything we have been told over the generations and is well known in the Jewish culture, when John tells Herod “It is unlawful for you to have her” and the text states John was put in prison “for the sake of Herodias, his brother’s Phillips’s wife”. John and Matthew are both stating that even though Herod had remarried Herodias, that she was still Phillip’s wife, even though they were no longer married. Herodias had divorced Phillip and married Herod, but this wasn’t a lawful thing to do as Herodias hadn’t divorced Phillip for sexual immorality. We use terms like marriage and bound to differentiate two different states, but in reality the man and wife state was where they were bound and the marriage state was the union of the two. The union could be broken, but not the man and wife state without the putting away for sexual immorality. This is evident in the OT, but not in our way of thinking.

  29. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    I think the argument places too much stress on “Phillip’s wife” given that the accusation is “not lawful,” a reference to the Torah. In nearly every case, in Matthew, “lawful” (ἔξεστιν) refers to violating the Law of Moses. And it was clearly incest in violation of Lev 18. Herod would not have feared an accusation that he violated the Torah as interpreted by a Galilean rabbi. Rather, the fact that he was guilty of incest contrary to Torah — and obviously so — is what threatened his ability to rule the Jews.

    I can find no non-Church of Christ commentary that finds the reference to “Phillip’s wife” particularly significant. For all we know, John began condemning the arrangement before the divorce and remarriage even happened. The story begins well before the remarriage —

    While Antipas was visiting Herod Philip at Rome, Herodias entered into an intrigue with him. She had long since tired of the life of a wealthy Roman matron, and she saw in Antipas an opportunity for excitement and advancement. So she ran away with him to Galilee. Antipas divorced his legal wife, the daughter of Aretas, king of Petra, and married Herodias. Thereby Antipas made an enemy of the Nabateans, made the fortress of Machaerus more necessary than ever, and made himself guilty of entering into a marriage that was both adulterous and consanguineous.

    JB Phillips, Phillips Commentary.

  30. Larry Cheek says:

    I also had to sort through much non-since that was proposed by many of our brothers to support the Traditional or separations teachings on MDR. One of the primary quotes was the position of Herod and his brothers wife attempting to validate that the marriage was continuing, but as we notice many of these prohibitions were not dependent upon marriage. If you would consider that there was marriages involved in a few of the following, then those would be considered also adultery. But, if there had been a divorce which dissolved the marriage upon (as we would say scriptural grounds or a death of the partner) the scriptural divorce or death still would not allow an individual the liberty to have sex with a mother, the wife of your father, brother or any other close relative. Therefore, the (test) that the Traditionalist applied to the marriage of Herod’s brother, was in error.
    (Lev 18:6 NIV) “‘No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD.
    7 “‘Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her. 8 “‘Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife; that would dishonor your father. 9 “‘Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere.
    10 “‘Do not have sexual relations with your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter; that would dishonor you. 11 “‘Do not have sexual relations with the daughter of your father’s wife, born to your father; she is your sister. 12 “‘Do not have sexual relations with your father’s sister; she is your father’s close relative. 13 “‘Do not have sexual relations with your mother’s sister, because she is your mother’s close relative. 14 “‘Do not dishonor your father’s brother by approaching his wife to have sexual relations; she is your aunt. 15 “‘Do not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law. She is your son’s wife; do not have relations with her. 16 “‘Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife; that would dishonor your brother. 17 “‘Do not have sexual relations with both a woman and her daughter. Do not have sexual relations with either her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter; they are her close relatives. That is wickedness. 18 “‘Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.

  31. R.J. says:

    Although Herod divorced his former wife, Herodias did not divorce her husband(Herod’s brother). Thus he coveted and eventually marriage his sister-in-law. Herodias was a polyandrous(having two husbands). If she had divorced Philip, she would not be Herod’s sister-in-law.

  32. R.J. says:

    Opps…my bad. I forgot to mention Herodias was also Herod’s niese and if Josephus is to be believed, not his sister-in-law.

  33. R.J. says:

    /\/\/\ but she was briefly married to both Herod and Philip as Herod wedded her before she divorced his brother.

  34. Dwight says:

    Actually I haven’t heard any of this from the coC and I run counter to many of the standard thoughts on this. This I know. I recognize that John was stating an argumnent from the OT law, but then again Jesus did too when he talked of divorce. He corrected the Pharisees with what the OT law actually said in regards to divorce in Deut. The fact it does say “Phillip’s wife” makes it important and grermain to why it was adultery. Accordong to Josephus, “Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorced herself from her husband while he was alive, and was married to Herod Antipas.” Even Josephus recognized that it was the divorce and remarriage while Phillip was still alive that was the issue and not incest. I do not again take the position that Herodias and Phillip’s marriage was continuing, as it says she remarried, but that Herodias was still Philip’s wife according to scripture and according to the fact that she did not divorce him for sexual immorality.

  35. Dwight says:

    Both Herod II(Phillip) and Herod Antipas were both sons of Herod the Great so it would have been incest for both of them if this was the case and yet only Herod Antipas was being condemned by John for his marriage. Herodias was the half-neice of both Herod II (Phillip) and Herod Antipas.
    I would, if anyone wishes, allow someone to critique a study I did on this. It veers away somewhat from our understanding of marriage as it takes the Jewish route where man and wife was often instituted before marriage, which is why when betrothed one could be charged with adultery even before they were married-according to Deut.22, which is why Joseph could have sought to put Mary away. Deut. 20:7 places betrothal before marriage and Deut.28:30 places wife at betrothal. Note – I am not trying to create new doctrine, but just seeing how the scriptures themselves look at man and wife and marriage.

  36. Dwight says:

    To put this into perspetive. I once gave my study to two preachers within the coC and was told the same thing- everyone knows what man and wife and marriage so you don’t have look in the scriptures for a definiton. I was actually told not to read the scriptures for the definition of man and wife and marriage, but to go by current day understanding and was told that betrothment was not something that should be looked at or considered, even though God made just as many laws on it as marriage and this was in force during Jesus time. If we are going to look at marriage we should look at betrothment since they are tied together and one affected the other at times. My position that I found from reading the scriptures is that man and wife was primarily established before marriage and this is where they were bound to each other, while marriage was the sexual union of man and wife. Like I said I would fully allow anyone to read and tear my work apart if they so choose, but I think it is pretty solid. I will send it to to whoever ask.

  37. Larry Cheek says:

    The statement that you made,”but that Herodias was still Philip’s wife according to scripture and according to the fact that she did not divorce him for sexual immorality.” Cannot be applied as a command in the OT, divorce on OT was never judged as valid or not valid by the commitment of sexual immorality. Jesus did not correct a misuse of OT divorce retroactively. In OT all divorcees were allowed remarriage.

  38. R.J. says:

    Although Herodias deserted Philip behind his back, she did not Officially divorce him as it was impossible for a Roman woman to do so legally(this was purely in the hands of the husband according to their laws). Obviously Herod wooed her away from him(thus coveting and stealing his brothers wife). And since Antipas had more power, there wasn’t a darn thing Philip could do about it.

  39. Dwight says:

    Lsrry, We don’t have proof of your statement and no examples that I can think of that correlate with this. All we have proof of is Deut.24 where God made the command, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house…” meaning that God allowed divorce for unlceanliness, which was understood to be sexual immorality or fornication, which is what Jesus stated in Matt. The Pharisees were asking if any reason was valid for divorce and Jesus said no in accordance with the Law. To say that all divorces were allowed remarriage means that we have examples of this and that Jesus was wrong in his statement and his understanding of the OT Law. Even God states as his reason for putting away Israel was thier adultery with idols, other nations, etc., but He didn’t do it.

  40. Dwight says:

    R.J., Even though I think that divorce was primarily in the husbands hands, it must have not been so as a legal rule. Josephus states that, “Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorced herself from her husband while he was alive, and was married to Herod Antipas.” So she did it even though it wasn’t approved of. But then again Jesus even makes the statement of a woman divorcing her husband in the Gospels in Mark 10:12 and againin I Cor.7:13, so it at least must have been doable and recognized as such.

  41. R.J. says:

    I think Josephus has been a bit tampered with interpolations. Other documents state that she sneakily deserted Philip all because of King Herod’s grandiose promises.

    And yes a couple of Greek settlements within the Roman Empire did indeed recognise women divorces. And as part of Rome’s peace pack, they were exempt. But Herodias came from a Roman province(where The Law of The Husband prevailed). According to that law, a woman could not divorce or even harbor platonic love for another man(believe me, Rome had very low esteem for the woman’s plight).

    True is, there is no evidence that she officially divorced Philip(with his consent). At least not during the time John the Baptist accused Herod of unlawfully marrying Philip’s wife(for multiple reasons).

  42. R.J. says:

    Josephus appears to be referring to the law I mentioned above which even forbids women from deserting the unbreakable bond their own husbands. Only the husband decided to annul a marriage. Otherwise, death was the only way out.

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