Divorce & Remarriage

The Original Christian Teaching on Divorce & Remarriage

By examining the evidence below, it can be easily discerned that the original Christian teaching concerning the issue of divorce & remarriage was very different from that of most modern-day churches. The Scriptural & historical evidence supplied below demonstrates what the orthodox Christian position was from the very beginning by a nearly unanimous or universal consensus. The Church held to this position, for the most part, from the time that Jesus taught it clear up until the dawn of the Protestant Reformation. The norms of professing Christian society may have changed, but “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8). This is not an easy or a comfortable subject to deal with, but it is an eternally important one. Please consider the evidence given below:

Matthew 5:31-3231 “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality [porneia: i.e. fornication] causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”

[Note: The exception clause Jesus gives only clears a man from the guilt he would otherwise bring upon himself for divorcing his wife for a reason other than her fornication; i.e. he cannot be guilty of causing her to sin (i.e. to become an adulteress by divorcing her) if she has already been playing the prostitute while married to him. But if she is innocent of sinning against him in such a manner & yet he divorces her, then he will be guilty of causing (cf. Matt 18:6-7) her to commit adultery—that is, assuming she then takes another man or a different “husband.” Notice that even in cases where the wife is innocent of sexual immorality in her first marriage, she will still become an adulteress if she takes another man or a different “husband”—and then that other man will also be guilty of adultery due to marrying a woman who has been divorced. Concerning the word “fornication” (Gk. porneia), it has historically been used to almost always refer to sex between unmarried persons, but it can also be used in a figurative manner–such as to refer to a married person who is behaving like an unmarried prostitute–which would make them guilty of both the sin of adultery (Gk. moicheia) AND the sin of porneia (i.e. of practicing fornication in the sense of harlotry, whoredom, or prostitution).]

Matthew 19:4-94 “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ [Gen 1:27]  5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh‘? [Gen 2:24]  6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” 8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality [Gk. porneia; fornication], and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.

[Note: Many people read v. 9 and understand it to mean that Jesus permits the innocent spouse to remarry if their wife/husband has been unfaithful to them. But the text does not say that. Once we understand what God’s view of divorce is, then we will agree more closely with the early Christian view. The early Christians believed that, in this passage, Jesus was only allowing a “separation-divorce” in the case of a spouse’s unrepentant fornication (thus preventing an unholy “ménage à trois”). But Jesus was not allowing remarriage to a different person while the “one-flesh” spouse was still alive—cf. 5:32.]

Mark 10:2-122 The Pharisees came and asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” testing Him. 3 And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.”  5 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. 6 But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh'; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” 10 In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter. 11 So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. 12 And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

[Note: Jesus makes it very clear that if a man or woman divorces their spouse and marries another, he or she commits adultery. Why? Because a legal divorce, for any reason, does not separate what God has joined together.]

Luke 16:18: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.”

[Note: Divorce & remarriage to a person other than the one-flesh spouse (who is still alive) is prohibited. Even when a legal divorce has taken place, in God’s eyes the original couple is still married—which is what causes it to be adultery to either be remarried to a different person, or for a person who has never been married before to marry a divorcee whose one-flesh spouse is still alive.]

Romans 7:1-31 “Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? 2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.”

[Note: Here we have the only scriptural authorization for remarriage: the death of a spouse.]

1 Corinthians 7:10-1610 “Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. 11 But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife. 12 But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. 15 But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?”

[Note: Christians have no obligation to make every effort to stay in a relationship with an unbeliever. If the unbeliever does not want to be married to someone who has become a Christian, and therefore departs, then the Christian has committed no sin. But there is no authorization to get remarried to a different person.]

1 Cor 7:39—“A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wished, only in the Lord.”

[Note: Here we see again that it is death that lawfully dissolves the marriage bond, and that if a second marriage takes place, the person who has been loosed from that bond is only to marry a Christian.]

Note Concerning Interpretation: All the passages listed above are taken from the New Testament. But the Old Testament also touches on the issue of divorce [see Deuteronomy 24:1-4;[1] Jeremiah 3:8;[2] Malachi 2:10-16[3]]. One well-known Old Testament passage that touches on the issue of divorce is Malachi 2:16a, which reads:

“For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence,”

This passage seems to make it pretty clear how God feels about divorce. He hates it! It is a violent thing; even if there is no physical violence involved, it is the emotional equivalent of setting off a hand grenade in the middle of the family dining table. But a woman who has already divorced her husband and then entered into a sexual relationship with another man (whether this other man married her or not), might be tempted to use an Old Testament text (such as Deuteronomy 24:1-4) to justify her not leaving that other man and returning to her husband. She might be tempted to say that she cannot return to her husband because (as Deuteronomy 24:4 has it) she has now been “defiled.”   However, we must remember that Christians are under the New Covenant, not the Old Covenant. Jesus taught his followers to have mercy on people and to forgive them. And so, in keeping with Jesus’ teachings, the early Christians universally believed that (in cases of divorce because of sexual immorality) the “innocent” Christian spouse was not to remarry—just in case the Christian spouse who had committed sexual immorality (porneia: i.e. fornication) or ongoing adultery was to repent. That way, the two could still be reconciled because the door to reconciliation would not have been irrevocably closed.[4] An example of this ancient teaching is given below—all emphasis and comments in brackets are mine:

Hermas [c.150 A.D.]: “‘What…is the [Christian] husband to do, if his [Christian] wife continues in [adultery]?’ And he said, ‘The husband should put her away, and remain by himself. But if he put his wife away and marries another, he also commits adultery.’ And I said to him, ‘What if the woman put away should repent, and wish to return to her husband: shall she not be taken back by her husband?’ And he said to me, ‘Assuredly. If the husband does not take her back, he sins, and brings a great sin upon himself; for he ought to take back the sinner who has repented. But not frequently: for there is but one repentance [this being a formal, public period of penance] to the servants of God [for sins such as adultery, murder, and idolatry]. In case, therefore, that the divorced wife may repent, the husband ought not to marry another, when his wife has been put away. In this matter man and woman are to be treated exactly in the same way.'” (ANF, Vol. 2, p. 21)

In Conclusion

A scriptural divorce is not a severing or dissolution of the marriage bond. A scriptural divorce is a separation that has taken place (due to the marriage bed having been defiled) that is ultimately meant to bring about redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of the relationship between a husband and wife. According to the N.T. scriptures, it is not God’s will that a man or a woman who has entered into a covenant one-flesh marriage (cf. Gen 2:24) should divorce for any reason except perhaps for sexual immorality/porneia, which is almost always defined as fornication (i.e. harlotry, whoredom, prostitution) rather than adultery. But it was not His will from creation–and never will be–that Christians should knowingly participate in ANY sort of sexual immorality. So, in cases where a spouse is guilty of ongoing, unrepentant adultery or prostitution, the innocent spouse should separate from the adulterous spouse. Neither party is to remarry. The innocent spouse is to wait for the guilty spouse to repent & forsake their unlawful sexual activity and then they should be reconciled. The reason for this is that although sin has been brought into the marriage and needs to be dealt with, the marriage covenant is not broken or dissolved in God’s eyes. The ONLY thing that can dissolve the oneness of the marriage bond is death. The God of the Bible is a relational, loving God. In John 3:16-17, we learn that “He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him [or pisteuo eis: “obeys unto Him”] should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Brothers and sisters, we are called to be an example of Christ to our spouses.


The Woman at the Well: Early Christian views on Subsequent Marriages Due to Divorce

John 4:16-18: 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband [Gk. aner–“man”], and come here.” 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband [Gk. aner].” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband [Gk. aner],’ 18 for you have had five husbands [Gk. aner], and the one whom you now have is not your husband [Gk. aner]; in that you spoke truly.” (Note: in each occurrence of the word “husband” in this passage, the Greek word aner can also be translated as “man.”)

In revealing His supernatural knowledge while conversing with the Woman at the Well, Jesus put His finger on one of the biggest sin issues and social stigmas in this woman’s life. Had all 5 of this woman’s husbands died? Or were some of these due to divorce & remarriage? Or, were more than one of these “husbands” (Gk. aner) merely “men” to whom she was never legally married to? We are simply not told.

However, a very strong Biblical case can be made that the only thing that truly ends a person’s first marriage in the eyes of God is the death. Amongst the early Christians, a separation was permitted in the case of ongoing, unrepentant adultery, but remarriage was not. For this reason, serial marriages were often looked upon as probably involving immorality of some sort (like adultery or a lack of self-control), and sex outside of the bounds of marriage, as in the case between the Woman at the Well and the sixth man of hers that is mentioned, is most definitely sexual immorality or fornication—no matter how old a person may be. And just because Jesus knew that she had been married five times does not mean that He acknowledged that all five of these marriages had been lawful marriages in the eyes of God. Man’s law does not override God’s law.

A quote from Hermas was given above to illustrate that this was indeed how the early Christians interpreted and applied the passages of the New Testament that are under consideration. In fact, this was the orthodox position of the Church for well over a thousand years by a nearly universal consensus. Consider the additional representative quotes from early Christians given below (more could be supplied, but these should be sufficient):

Irenaeus (c. 180 A.D.): “That erring Samaritan woman did not remain with one husband. Rather, she committed fornication [L. fornicata] by many marriages.” (ANF, Vol. 1, p. 445–note: “fornication” as seen here in the Latin translation of Irenaeus’ writing probably implies she was acting like a prostitute.)

Justin Martyr (c. 160 A.D.): “Concerning chastity, He [Jesus] uttered such sentiments as these [he quotes Matt 5:28, 29, 32; 19:12]. So that all who, by human law, are twice married, are in the eye of our Master sinners, and those who look upon a woman to lust after her. For not only he who in act commits adultery is rejected by Him, but also he who desires to commit adultery…” (ANF, Vol. 1, p. 167)

Theophilus (fl. c. 170-190 A.D.): “‘And he that marries,’ says [the Gospel], ‘her that is divorced from her husband, commits adultery; and whoever puts away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery.’ Because Solomon says: ‘Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goes in to a married woman [i.e. even though she has been divorced] shall not be innocent.'” (ANF, Vol. 2, To Autolycus, 3:13)

Athenagoras (c. 175 A.D.): “…a person should either remain as he was born [i.e. a virgin], 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 marry again…These adulterers and pederasts defame the eunuchs [i.e. Christian virgins] and the once-married.” (ANF, Vol. 2, p. 146-147)

Clement of Alexandria (c. 195 A.D.): “Now that the Scripture counsels marriage, and allows no release from the union, is expressly contained in the law, ‘Thou shalt not put away thy wife, except for the cause of fornication;’ and it regards as adultery [not “fornication,” which is a translation error], the marriage of those separated while the other is alive…’He that taketh a woman that has been put away,’ it is said, ‘committeth adultery; and if one puts away his wife, he makes her an adultress,’ that is, compels her to commit adultery. And not only is he who puts her away guilty of this, but he who takes her, by giving to the woman the opportunity of sinning; for did he not take her, she would return to her husband.” (ANF Vol. 2, p. 379)

Tertullian (c. 217 A.D.) [while arguing for the ideal that a person should only be married once in their lifetime,[5] Tertullian writes]: “…to a man who had been loosed from a wife [by her death] prior to his believing, his [subsequent] wife will not be counted as a second wife. Because she is his first wife after his believing…. [the Apostle Paul] also demonstrates that such a subsequent wife is to be a Christian, and that if she also has been ‘loosed’ from a husband, the loosing is to have taken place through death, of course, not through divorce; inasmuch as to the divorced he would grant no permission to marry, in the teeth of the primary precept.” (ANF, Vol. 4, p. 68; comments on 1 Cor 7:27-28a, 39)

Origen (c. 245 A.D.): “A woman is an adulteress—even though she seems to be married to a man—if the former husband is still living. Likewise, also, the man who seems to marry the woman who has been put away, does not so much marry her as commit adultery with her—according to the declaration of our Savior.” (ANF, Vol. 9, p. 511)

Cyprian (c. 250 A.D.): “…a wife must not depart from her husband. Or, if she should depart, she must remain unmarried.” (ANF, Vol. 5, p. 553)

Lactantius (c. 304-313 A.D.): “He who marries a woman divorced from her husband is an adulterer. So is he who divorced a wife for any cause other than adultery, in order to marry another.” (ANF, Vol. 7, p. 190, translated from the Latin)

Council of Arles (c. 314 A.D.): “Of those who discover their wives in adultery and are young Christians and are forbidden to remarry, it was determined that they be most strongly advised not to take other wives while their own live, though they be adulterous.” (Council of Arles, cannon 10)

Council of Elvira (c. 324 A.D.): “A Christian woman who has left an adulterous Christian husband and is marrying another is to be forbidden to marry; if, however, she has already remarried, she is not to receive communion before the death of the man whom she has left, unless mortal sickness compels it.” (Council of Elvira, Canon 9)

Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390 A.D.): “If a layman divorces his own wife, and takes another, or one divorced by another, let him be suspended [i.e. let him be excommunicated].” (ANF, Vol. 7, p. 503; Apostolic Canon 48)

Basil the Great (375 A.D.): “The man who has deserted his wife and goes to another is himself an adulterer because he makes her commit adultery; and the woman who live with him is an adulteress, because she has caused another woman’s husband to come over to her…The woman who lives with an adulterer is an adulteress the whole time. The woman who has been abandoned by her husband, ought, in my judgment, to remain as she is. [Why? Because…] The Lord said, “If any one leave his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, he causes her to commit adultery;” thus, by calling her adulteress, He excludes [i.e. forbids] her from intercourse with another man. For how can the man being guilty, as having caused adultery, and the woman, go without blame, when she is called an adulteress by the Lord for having intercourse with another man? A man who marries another man’s wife who has been taken away from him will be charged with adultery…” [Amphilochius 199]

Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428 A.D.): “He [Jesus, in Matthew 5:32] has mixed his statement about divorce with one concerning fornication, for men who turn away from their own spouses out of a desire for intercourse with other women have committed adultery. The same applies to women. Thus he does not allow the divorced women to remarry. The man she lives with must pay the penalties of an adulterer. For even if, to all appearances, she is separated from her husband, in spiritual reality she remains his body. At the beginning, she was joined and fitted by God to her husband as ‘one flesh’ [Gen 2:24]. For the same reason, neither is the man able to marry another woman.” [Fragment 33; MKGK 107; ACCS N.T. Vol. 1a, p. 113]

Ambrose (387 A.D.): “But what shall I say about chastity, when only one and no second
union is allowed? As regards marriage, the law is, not to marry again, nor to seek union with another wife. It seems strange to many why impediment should be caused by a second marriage entered on before baptism, so as to prevent election to the clerical office, and to the reception of the gift of ordination; seeing that even crimes are not wont to stand in the way, if they have been put away in the sacrament of baptism. But we must learn, that in baptism sin can be forgiven, but law cannot be abolished. In the case of marriage there is no sin, but there is a law. Whatever sin there is can be put away, whatever law there is cannot be laid aside in marriage.” [On the duties of Clergy:1:257]

“And what else did John [the Baptist] have in mind but what is virtuous, so that he could not endure a wicked union even in the king’s case, saying: ‘It is not lawful for thee to have her to wife.’ He could have been silent, had he not thought it unseemly for himself not to speak the truth for fear of death, or to make the prophetic office yield to the king, or to indulge in flattery. He knew well that he would die as he was against the king, but he preferred virtue to safety. Yet what is more expedient than the suffering which brought glory to the saint.” [On the duties of Clergy, 3:89]

“No one is permitted to know a woman other than his wife. The marital right is given you for this reason: lest you fall in a snare and sin with a strange woman. ‘If you are bound to a wife do not seek a divorce,’ for you are not permitted, while your wife lives to marry another.” [Abraham 1:57:59]

“You dismiss your wife, therefore, as if by right and without being charged with wrongdoing [i.e. by the civil authorities]; and you suppose it is proper for you to do so because no human law forbids it; but divine law forbids it. Anyone who obeys men should stand in awe of God. Hear the Word of the Lord, which even they [i.e. the civil authorities] who propose our [civil] laws must obey: ‘What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.'” [Commentary on Luke, Sec. 8:5]

Jerome (396 A.D.): “In explaining the testimony of the apostle, ‘The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband; and likewise, also, the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife,’ we have subjoined the following: The entire question relates to those who are living in wedlock, whether it is lawful for them to put away their wives, a thing which the Lord also has forbidden in the Gospel.

“Following the decision of the Lord the apostle teaches that a wife must not be put away saving for fornication, and that, if she has been put away, she cannot during the lifetime of her husband marry another man, or, at any rate, that she ought, if possible, to be reconciled to her [first] husband. In another verse he speaks to the same effect: ‘The wife is bound …as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband; she is at liberty to be married to, whom she will; only in the Lord.’ [i.e. only to a Christian]

“I find joined to your letter of inquiries a short paper containing the following words: ‘ask him,(that is me,) whether a woman who has left her husband on the ground that he is an adulterer and sodomite and has found herself compelled to take another may in the lifetime of him whom she first left be in communion with the church without
doing penance for her fault.’ As I read the case put I recall the verse ‘they make excuses for their sins.’

“We are all indulgent to our own faults; and what our own will leads us to do we attribute to a necessity of nature. It is as though a young man were to say, ‘I am over-borne by my body, the glow of nature kindles my passions, the structure of my frame and its reproductive organs call for sexual intercourse.’ Or again a murderer might say,
‘I was in want, I stood in need of food, I had nothing to cover me. If I shed the blood of another, it was to save myself from dying of cold and hunger.’

“Tell the sister, therefore, who thus enquires of me concerning her condition, not my sentence but that of the apostle. ‘Know ye not, brethren (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband, so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then, if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress.’ And in another place: ‘the wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.’

“The apostle has thus cut away every plea and has clearly declared that, if a woman marries again while her husband is living, she is an adulteress. You must not speak to me of the violence of a ravisher, a mother’s pleading, a father’s bidding, the  influence of relatives, the insolence and the intrigues of servants, household losses. A husband may be an adulterer or a sodomite, he may be stained with every crime and may have been left by his wife because of his sins; yet he is still her husband and, so long as he lives, she may not marry another.

“The apostle does not promulgate this decree on his own authority but on that of Christ who speaks in him. For he has followed the words of Christ in the gospel: ‘whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced, committeth adultery.’ Mark what he says: ‘whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.’ Whether she has put away her husband or her husband her, the man who marries her is still an adulterer.

“I have not been able quite to determine what it is that she means by the words ‘has found herself compelled’ to marry again. What is this compulsion of which she speaks? Was she overborne by a crowd and ravished against her will? If so, why has she not, thus victimized, subsequently put away her ravisher [i.e. had the one who raped her put in jail]? Let her read the books books of Moses and she will find that if violence is offered to a betrothed virgin in a city and she does not cry out, she is punished as an adulteress: but if she is forced in the field, she is innocent of sin and her ravisher alone is amenable to the laws.

“Therefore if your sister, who, as she says, has been forced into a second union, wishes to receive the body of Christ and not to be accounted an adulteress, let her do penance; so far at least as from the time she begins to repent to have no farther intercourse with that second husband who ought to be called not a husband but an adulterer. If this seems hard to her and if she cannot leave one whom she has once loved and will not prefer the Lord to sensual pleasure, let her hear the declaration of the apostle: ‘ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and of the table of devils,’ and in another place: ‘what
communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial?'” [Letters 55, 58]

Chromatius (fl. 400 A.D.): “In all things our Lord and Savior reforms for the better the justice of the ancient law [as seen in Jesus’ words in Matt 5:31-32]. Indeed, it seems that long ago a license for divorce was granted by Moses on tenuous grounds to the Jewish people who were living licentiously and serving their pleasures. This was due not to the system of law but to the unbridled pleasure of a carnal people unable to uphold the righteousness of the law according to rigorous standards.

“This concession was allowed, according to what the Lord himself said in another place in his reply to the inquiring Sadducees. For when they asked why Moses had allowed a bill of divorce to be given, the Lord answered, ‘Moses, by reason of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to put away your wives, but it was not so from the beginning’ [Matt 19:8]. And now, not without good reason does our Lord and Savior, with that license removed, restore the precepts of his former constitution. For he orders that chaste wedlock be preserved by indissoluble law, showing that the law of marriage was first instituted by himself. For he said, ‘What therefore God has joined together, let no one put assunder’ [Matt 19:6; Mk 10:9].” [Tractate on Matthew 24.1. 1-3; CCL 9a:309; ACCS N.T. Vol. 1a, p. 112]

Innocent I (417 A.D.): “It is manifest that when persons who have been divorced marry again both parties are adulterers. And moreover, although the former marriage is supposed to be broken, yet if they marry again they themselves are adulterers, but the parties whom they marry are equally with them guilty of adultery; as we read in the gospel: ‘He who puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery;’ and likewise, ‘He who marries her that is put away from her husband commits adultery.’ Therefore all such are to be repelled from communion.” [Innocent I, Letter to Exsuperius, Bishop of Toulouse, Ch. 6]

Augustine (419 A.D.): “This we now say, that, according to this condition of being born and dying, which we know, and in which we have been created, the marriage of male and female is some good, the compact whereof divine Scripture so commends, as that neither is it allowed one [i.e. a woman] put away by her husband to marry, so long as her husband lives; nor is it allowed one [i.e. a man] put away by his wife to marry another, unless she who have separated from him be dead.

“Our Lord, therefore, in order to confirm that principle, that a wife should not lightly be put away, made the single exception of fornication; but enjoins that all other annoyances, if any such should happen to spring up, be borne with fortitude for the sake of conjugal fidelity and for the sake of chastity; and he also calls that man an adulterer who should marry her that has been divorced by her husband. And the Apostle Paul shows the limit of this state of affairs, for he says it is to be observed as long as her husband liveth; but on the husband’s death he gives permission to marry.

“For he himself also held by this rule, and therein brings forward not his own advice, as in the case of some of his admonitions, but a command by the Lord when he says: ‘And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.’ I believe that, according to a similar rule, if he shall put her away, he is to remain unmarried, or be reconciled to his wife.” [Commentaries on the Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels]

“For whosoever putteth away his wife except for the cause of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery. To such a degree is that marriage compact entered upon be a holy Sacrament, that it is not made void even by separation itself, since so long as her husband lives, even by whom she hath been left, she commits adultery in the case where she marries another, and he who hath left her is the cause of this evil. But I marvel, if, if it be allowed to put away a wife who is an adulteress, so it be allowed, having put her away, to marry another.

“For holy Scripture makes a hard knot in this matter in that the apostle says, that, by commandment of the Lord, the wife ought not to depart from her husband, but, in case she shall have departed to remain unmarried, or to be reconciled to her husband…I can not see how the man can have permission to marry another, in the case where he left an adulteress, when a woman can not be married to another when she left an adulterer.

“Seeing that the compact of marriage is not done away with by an intervening divorce, so that they continue as wedded persons one to another, even after separation, and commit adultery with those with whom they be joined, even after their own divorce, either the woman with the man, or the man with a woman.

Neither can it rightly be held that a husband who dismisses his wife because of fornication and marries another does not commit adultery. For there is also adultery on the part of those who, after the repudiation of their former wives because of fornication, marry others

“No one is so unreasonable to say that a man who marries a woman whose husband has dismissed her because of fornication is not an adulterer, while maintaining that a man who marries a woman dismissed without the ground of fornication is an adulterer. Both of these men are guilty of adultery.” [Adulterous Marriages 1:9:9]

“A spouse, therefore, is lawfully dismissed for cause of adultery, but the laws of chastity remains. That is why a man is guilty of adultery if he marries a woman who has been dismissed even for this very reason of adultery.” [ibid., 2:4:4]

“A woman begins to be the wife of no later husband unless she has ceased to be the wife of a former one. She will cease to be the wife of a former one, however, if that husband should die, not if he commit adultery.” [ibid, 2:4:3]

“Therefore to serve two or more (men), so to pass over from a living husband into marriage with another, was neither lawful then (in the Old Testament), nor is it lawful now, nor will it ever be lawful. To apostatize from the One God, and to go into adulteress superstitions of another, is ever an evil.” [On the Holy Spirit; Doctrinal Treatises; Moral Treatises]

Innocent I (c. 402-417 A.D.): “It is manifest that when persons who have been divorced marry again, both parties are adulterers. And moreover, although the former marriage is supposed to be broken, yet if they marry again, they themselves are adulterers, but the parties whom they marry are equally with them guilty of adultery; as we read in the gospel: ‘He who puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery'; and likewise, ‘He who marries her that is put away from her husband commits adultery.’ Therefore, all such are to be repelled from communion.” (Innocentius, Papa. Epist. III. ad I. Exuperium, cap 6.)


[1] Deut 24:1-4 1 “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, 2 when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, 4 then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

[2] Jer 3:8—”Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also.”

[3] Mal 2:10-16 10 “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously with one another by profaning the covenant of the fathers? 11 Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem, For Judah has profaned The Lord’s holy institution which He loves: He has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob the man who does this, being awake and aware, yet who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts! 13 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. 14 Yet 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. 15 But 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.”

[4] In researching the meaning of the word “divorce”, it can be seen that even up to the early 1900’s, a valid definition of the word is: The separation of a married woman from the bed and board of her husband (Webster’s revised unabridged dictionary of both the 1828 and 1913 editions). Does this definition not better reflect the scriptural understanding of divorce? Isn’t the message of the N.T. one of redemption, reconciliation, restoration, and relationship? Are not we called to be longsuffering? Even the Hebrew and Greek do not give the sense of dissolution or a breaking of the marriage bond, but only a separating of the individuals.

[5] 1 Timothy 3:2 (NRSV): “Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher,”

1 Timothy 3:12 (NRSV): “Let deacons be married only once, and let them manage their children and their households well;”

1 Timothy 5:9 (NRS): “Let a widow be put on the list if she is not less than sixty years old and has been married only once;”

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