in Divorce and Remarriage
The subject of divorce and remarriagehas profound implications for the present life and eternal life in the Kingdom of God!
Perhaps no subject is filled with such intense emotion and is accompanied with such far-reaching consequences as that of divorce and subsequent remarriage. We would all be shocked to learn of all the tears and anguish, the confusion and strife, the happiness and heartache, the feelings of rejection and feelings of relief surrounding the breakup of a marriage and entrance into a second marriage.
Questions relating to divorce and remarriage abound. Was divorce ever justified before or after Christ? If so, upon what grounds? If not, how do we explain the common divorce texts of Scripture? Was remarriage permitted in certain circumstances? If not, how do we explain the so-called exception clauses? If so, in what circumstances–and during what period? How do we harmonize Jesus with Moses, and Paul with Jesus? If one violates the marital bond, what is the outcome? How does fornication or sexual immorality (porneia) and adultery (moicheia) relate to divorce? What is the result of violating Gods Word in this matter?
Dozens of questions can be asked about the profound subject we are discussing. Dozens of positions have been taken. Probably most people have much confusion in their minds on these matters. Others think they have all the answers but, like some of old, they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions (1 Tim. 1:7). There are simple and straightforward teachings in the Word of God on divorce and remarriage–but there are also numerous perspectives on the various texts that bear upon the teachings.
This article contains only a preliminary study on this subject. It simply is an introduction and it barely can be considered even this! But one thing it does do–it warns of the utter seriousness of the subject and cautions the reader from taking a position that he may tragically discover is mistaken. Approach this subject and read this article with the seriousness it deserves. Seek Gods answers in His own written Word, the Holy Scriptures.
IN DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE
Although basic Scriptural passages on divorce and remarriage probably do not number more than two or three dozen, those who study the subject hold to a remarkable number of different views. A number of these views arise from those who would reject the full inspiration and authority of the written Word of God, thus we may reject them upon this basis. However, there are a variety of understandings among those who believe that the Bible is the revealed will of God for mankind and authoritative in every respect.
This present study is not intended to settle the controversies surrounding the subjects of divorce, remarriage, and adultery. We have addressed these subjects in a limited way in a small book entitled, The Amazing Truth About Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage. Rather, on the present pages we shall simply address several concerns of interest to those who are studying this serious contemporary problem.
Diversity of Views on Divorce
Those who have grown up in a more cloistered religious environment may be under the impression that there are only two or three views on divorce and remarriage. For instance, those who embrace a conservative view and come from a conservative religious background may only be acquainted with the position that their denomination or church officially sanctions. They may be oblivious to other views or they may assume that other views simply do not take the Scriptures seriously. Of course, many divorce views do not take the Bible seriously, but some do and these must be reckoned with instead of simply dismissing them as unworthy of consideration.
For now, let us notice some of the varieties of positions that have been embraced or could be embraced. Most in the list range from the more conservative to the more liberal, but this is not entirely followed consistently since there are so many variations and combinations. We do not imply that the most conservative one or ones are necessarily more Scriptural. It simply means that the more conservative of the views are the more restrictive.) We shall simply list these without comment:
1. After marriage, no separation or divorce must be initiated for any reason (and no remarriage under any circumstance, including death).
2. After marriage, no separation or divorce must be initiated for any reason (but remarriage is permitted after the death of ones spouse).
3. After marriage, no separation or divorce must be initiated for any reason (but remarriage is permitted after the death of a spouse who divorces).
4. Hypothetically, divorce is permitted in certain cultures (such as the Mosaic economy) during an engagement period–but not after marriage is consummated.
5. After marriage, initiation of separation from bed and board is permitted for repeated, unrepentant adultery alone, but no divorce or remarriage is tolerated.
6. After marriage, separation from bed and board is permitted for certain causes (e.g., wife abuse, child abuse), but no divorce or remarriage.
7. After marriage, initiation of separation from bed and board is permitted for any adultery committed by the spouse, but no divorce or remarriage is tolerated.
8. After marriage, divorce by the husband is permitted only on grounds of the wifes repeated, unrepentant adultery or sexual immorality (porneia)–but no remarriage subsequent to this action.
9. After marriage, divorce by either spouse is permitted only on grounds of the partners repeated, unrepentant adultery or sexual immorality (porneia)–but no remarriage subsequent to this action.
10. After marriage, divorce by the husband is permitted on grounds of the wifes adultery, per se, but no remarriage is allowed.
11. After marriage, divorce by either spouse is permitted on grounds of the partners adultery, per se, but no remarriage is allowed.
12. Divorce is permitted on grounds of sexual immorality of various kinds (adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, etc.), but no remarriage is permitted.
13. Divorce is permitted on grounds of desertion by an unbeliever, but no remarriage following this action is allowed.
14. Divorce is permitted on certain grounds (wife abuse, child abuse, etc.), but no remarriage following this action is allowed.
15. Divorce is permitted solely on grounds of repeated, unrepentant adultery or sexual immorality (porneia), with remarriage permitted only after the spouse remarries.
16. Divorce is permitted solely on grounds of repeated, unrepentant adultery or sexual immorality (porneia), with remarriage permitted regardless of the remarriage of the spouse.
17. Divorce is permitted solely on the grounds of adultery (moicheia) or sexual immorality (porneia), per se, with remarriage permitted.
18. Divorce is permitted also on the grounds of desertion by an unbeliever, with remarriage permitted.
19. Divorce that occurs apart from Scriptural grounds is not permitted, but if the divorced party later commits adultery (or remarries), the original divorcer may remarry.
20. One wrongfully divorced by an adulterous spouse may remarry after the spouse remarries.
21. One wrongfully divorced by an adulterous spouse may remarry before the spouse remarries.
22. One innocently and wrongfully divorced (on various grounds) by a spouse may remarry.
23. The guilty party divorced because of various reasons may remarry–only after the previous spouse remarries.
24. The guilty party divorced because of various reasons may remarry before the previous spouse remarries.
25. A child of God in an acknowledged adulterous marriage must sever the relationship at the point of repentance and confession of sins to be free of adultery.
26. A child of God in an acknowledged adulterous marriage must sever the relationship at the point of repentance and confession of sins and return to the original spouse if this is possible.
27. A child of God in an acknowledged adulterous marriage must sever the relationship at the point of repentance and confession of sins and must not return to the original spouse because the child of God has been defiled through the remarriage.
28. A child of God in an acknowledged adulterous marriage may remain in the relationship at the point of repentance and confession of sins.
29. A child of God unscripturally divorced must remain celibate after repentance and confession of sins.
30. A child of God unscripturally divorced may remarry after repentance and confession of sins.
31. An unbeliever unscripturally divorced must remain celibate after repentance and salvation.
32. An unbeliever unscripturally divorced may remarry after repentance and salvation.
33. An unbeliever in an acknowledged adulterous marriage must sever the relationship at the point of repentance and salvation.
34. An unbeliever in an acknowledged adulterous marriage may remain in the relationship at the point of repentance and salvation since he or she is considered a new creature.
35. One who is unscripturally remarried must not depart from the adulterous partner lest he or she violate the marriage bond and fail to carry out the marital commitments.
36. One commits adultery throughout a second marriage (as a state) even when sexual relations are not being committed
37. One commits adultery every time one has sexual relations with a second partner.
38. One commits adultery only at the point of marriage and commitment to a second partner rather than adultery being a continual relationship.
39. One may continue married to a second, adulterous spouse if the parties do not engage in sexual relations and sleep in different bedrooms.
40. One may engage in virtually any act and enter any relationship and the blood of Christ covers it, permitting continued relationship with a second spouse.
41. One who has illegitimately divorced a first spouse, then married a second spouse, is still bound to the first partner and must return to her or him.
42. One who marries a spouse who has been married before but who divorced on the grounds of the partners adultery or sexual immorality, must divorce this partner and should remain celibate the rest of his or her life–or until the former spouse dies.
43. One who marries a spouse who has been married before but who did not divorce on the grounds of the partners adultery or sexual immorality, must divorce this partner and may marry a legitimate partner.
44. One who is married to a spouse who has divorced his previous partner because the partner had been married before, must divorce this spouse and remain celibate or not marry until the partner dies.
45. One who is married to a spouse who has divorced his previous partner because the partner had been married before, is free to continue in the present marriage.
46. One who concludes that he did not really love his spouse at the time of the marriage is free to divorce the spouse and start over in true love.
47. A child of God who wrongfully marries an unbeliever or non-Christian must repent and then continue in this unequally yoked relationship.
48. A child of God who wrongfully marries an unbeliever or non-Christian must repent and is then free to divorce the illegitimate spouse and remarry another child of God.
49. One who has been married before, divorced for any reason, and remarried, must divorce his present partner and live in celibacy, whereas his second partner who had not been married before may enter another marriage (to a never-married person).
50. One who has been married before, divorced for adultery, and remarried, must divorce his present partner and live in celibacy, whereas his second partner who had not been married before may enter another marriage (to a never-married person).
51. One who has illegitimately divorced his spouse or been divorced by his spouse may remarry if he admits his sin in the breakup of the first marriage and asks God for forgiveness.
It is obvious that not each position listed above is exclusive. There may be much overlapping. Two views may be similar in various ways but dissimilar in other ways. Further, this list certainly does not incorporate every position held by people in the religious world. The list should simply help us to be aware that there are other positions, some conservative and others more liberal–depending upon where we are. We should be aware that it would be difficult to create a continuum from most restrictive to most liberal in this order, from A to P:
Position B may be more restrictive than position M, but may be more liberal than position D or F in some respects. Further, the more restrictive view is not always the more Scriptural, as the life of Jesus and the ministry of Paul will testify. They confronted highly-restrictive people but those people may have been wrong in many ways. While Jesus teaching on divorce was more restrictive than that of some of the Pharisees (Matt. 19:3-12), Pauls view was more liberal than that of others (1 Tim. 4:1-3).
Generally speaking, the more restrictive view may be the safest course to follow–but not in every case. One person wisely commented concerning the argument that one should take the safest view regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage: There is so safe view! This is correct. If there is any doubt about the view that one espouses, it is not necessarily a safe position to take. We may say that celibacy is the safest position to take, but this itself can be sinful if it opposes the will of God (cf. 1 Timothy 4:3). Furthermore, after an honorable marriage, celibacy would itself be wrong (1 Cor. 7:2-5).
Dangers to the Married Person
If there a question about the divorce and remarriage teaching, what are the dangers to the person (party) himself or herself if he or she is wrong and remains wrong?
(1) If the marriage is ADULTEROUS and SINFUL, and one STAYS in the adultery:
(1) He has no fellowship with God (1 John 1:7).
(2) He has no forgiveness of sins (1 John 1:9; Heb. 10:26-31).
(3) He has no knowledge of God (1 John 2:3-5).
(4) He has no part in the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21).
(5) He is under the wrath of God (Eph. 5:3-6).
(6) He will face the judgment of God (Heb. 13:4).
(7) He offers a poor and destructive example to both believers and unbelievers (1 Tim. 4:12; Titus 2:7).
(8) His actions will demoralize and lower the influence of holiness of the assembly of saints (1 Cor. 5:1-13; 1 Peter 2:12).
(9) He could offend others, causing other believers to fall into the same sin of divorce and adultery (Matt. 18:6-7).
(10) He fails to exercise full repentance and forsaking of sin (Acts 3:26; 26:18,20; Prov. 28:13).
(2) If the given marriage is ACCEPTABLE to God (not adulterous), and one SEPARATES or DIVORCES:
(1) He violates the instruction of Christ to not separate what God has joined (Matt. 19:6; Mark 10:9).
(2) He brings disruption to the children and may cause the children to turn from the way of Christ (Matt. 18:6-7; Col. 3:21).
(3) He brings temptation to himself (1 Cor. 7:1-2, 9).
(4) He deprives and defrauds his spouse of an emotional and sexual relationship (1 Cor. 7:2-5).
(5) He places his spouse into a situation that may cause her to sin, live in moral defeat, and possibly (probably) even adulterously remarry, thus being a stumbling-block to her (Matt. 5:31-32; 18:6-7; Rom. 14:15).
(6) He may bring reproach upon the body of Christ, causing the Gentiles (non-Christians) to blaspheme God (Rom. 2:23-24).
(7) He disobeys Paul who says to abide in the calling in which one is called (1 Cor. 7:17,20).
(8) He may bring severe financial hardship to himself, his spouse, and even the community of Christ (1 Tim. 5:8; Jas. 1:27).
(9) He may be guilty of accepting a doctrine of demons (1 Tim. 4:1-3a).
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
If there is a question about the divorce and remarriage issue, what are the dangers to the one (friend, elder/overseer, preacher, teacher, etc.) who advises or counsels the questionably remarried party if the counsel he or she gives is WRONG?
(1) If the marriage is ADULTEROUS and SINFUL, and one counsels the party (parties) to STAY in the adultery.
(1) He teaches falsehood and error, that which is con-trary to sound teaching and godliness (1 Tim. 4:6; 6:3).
(2) He is responsible, in part, for the adulterers sin, condemnation, and eternal judgment (Heb. 13:4; 1 Cor. 6:9-10).
(3) He offends or causes one to sin or remain in sin and is thus under Christs dreadful woe (Matt. 18:6-7; Luke 17:1-2).
(4) He may encourage one to do that which he has some doubt about, namely, stay in a sinful relationship (most remarried people with some Scriptural knowledge are not totally assured that their marital state is pleasing to God) (Rom. 14:23).
(5) He permits or encourages the adulterer or adulteress to dilute the purity and holiness of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 5:5-8; Eph. 5:25-27; 2 Cor. 11:2-3).
(6) He permits that which will bring reproach upon the saints of God (1 Peter 2:11-12).
(7) He is responsible for encouraging children (in the family and the community of saints) to grow up in an adulterous atmosphere and compromising influence (Eph. 6:4).
(8) He discourages the assembly from carrying out the exclusion and withdrawal process against the sexually immoral, including adulterers (1 Cor. 5:1-13).
(9) He does not require the full implications of repentance and restitution in the case of the adulterers (Acts 26:18,20; Prov. 28:13).
(10) He fails to demand the full meaning of discipleship that sometimes requires extreme measures, even to separation from ones spouse (Mark 10:28-30; Luke 14:26-27; Matt. 10:34-38; cf. Ezra 9:1-10:19, 44).
(11) He fails to take the stance of John the baptizer who rebuked Herod for his marriage to an ineligible partner (Mark 6:17-18).
(12) He fails to warn the wicked to turn from their adulterous and sinful ways (Acts 20:25-27; Ezek. 3:17-21; 18:5-29; 33:1-20).
(2) If the marriage is NOT adulterous and sinful and one counsels the party (parties) to SEPARATE from a wrongfully assumed adulterous mate:
(1) He violates the Lords instruction to not separate what God has joined together (Matt. 19:6; Mark 10:9).
(2) He brings disruption and suffering to the children and may cause them to turn from the Lord in disgust–and be eternally lost (Matt. 18:6-7).
(3) He advocates a condition that brings temptation to both parties who separate, a condition that few formerly-married celibates have been willing to handle (1 Cor. 7:2-5,9).
(4) He counsels that which will cause the parties to deprive or defraud each other (1 Cor. 7:3-5).
(5) He advises that which could cause one party to fall into immorality or other sin, to turn from Christ, and to be eternally lost (Matt. 5:31-32; 18:6-7).
(6) He may bring reproach upon the body of Christ by outsiders (Rom. 2:23-24).
(7) He advises a separation that may bring financial hardship to both parties as well as the body of Christ (the members of which may be called upon to support the needy one divorced and the children) (1 Tim. 5:8; Jas. 1:27).
(8) He may be denying the power of God to make new creatures in Christ and who brings new things out of old (2 Cor. 5:17).
(9) He may counsel ones to violate Pauls instructions to abide in the calling in which they were called (1 Cor. 7:17,20).
(10) He may be guilty of effectively closing the kingdom to between 10% and 60% of unbelievers who will not even consider the saving gospel of Christ if it requires disruption in the home (Matt. 23:13).
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
If you have read the foregoing points, you can see how utterly serious this matter is. The person himself or herself who is caught up in marital problems or a divorce and remarriage relationship is in the midst of a crucial situation that has eternal consequences. Likewise, the person who ventures to advise such a person to either stay or change a marriage (or remarriage) relationship is likewise treading on very dangerous territory. Yes, we are speaking of extremely serious matters when we speak of divorce, remarriage, and adultery!
With such a serious matter as divorce, remarriage, and adultery, people look to various sources for their answers. Not all of these are reliable–and many are entirely misleading. Let us notice several.
(1) Does the Early Church Teaching and Practice Help?
Some people attempt to solve the difficulties of these issues and avoid the painstaking research necessary by simply going to the early church writings–those of the so-called early church fathers. Just what was the early church belief, teaching, and practice in regard to marriage, divorce, and remarriage? Not a great deal was written on this topic but there is sufficient for us to learn something. Most students of patristics agree that there were slight differences of belief and practice, but we may make certain general conclusions:
(1) It appears that the early church accepted remarried persons (regardless of past divorce and regardless of the cause of the divorce) and allowed them to continue in this relationship when they were baptized and became members.
(2) If a members spouse became an adulteress, he was required to divorce her. If he did not, he would become an adulterer himself (by having relations with his adulterous wife).
(3) If one did divorce his adulterous spouse under these conditions, he was not permitted to remarry. He was to remain unmarried and wait for the divorced adulterous spouse to repent and return.
(4) One was not to remarry even after the death of ones legitimate spouse, but he was to remain celibate for life.
What shall we say about this summary? First, this is only of historical interest. Those who take the Scriptures as their only source of authority may learn from early church history but they do not go to the early church writings as their standard of right and wrong.
Second, apostasy began as early as the first century (Matt. 24:10-12; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Gal. 1:6-9; Col. 2:4,8; 1 Tim. 1:3,20; 4:1-5; 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 2:16-18; 4:3-4; Titus 1:9-13; Heb. 13:9; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 3:16-17; 1 John 4:1-6; 2 John 7-11; Rev. 2:14,15,20). It should not be surprising that there were false teachings and digressive practices in the second, third, and fourth centuries.
Third, we can learn that the early church did wrestle with divorce and remarriage and this is just what we must do in our age as we go to the Scriptures themselves as our standard.
We must conclude, therefore, that the early church may have been correct on the points listed above or it may have been wrong about those points. The only way for us to determine the truth is by searching the Scriptures ourselves–not by assuming that the early church was correct. (See the additional note at the end of this article.)
(2) Much of the Available Literature Does not Adequately Deal with All of the Issues
Much has been written during the past several decades dealing with the subject of divorce and remarriage. Much of this, however, does not really deal with all of the relevant areas of concern. This literature may be inadequate for several reasons:
1. It may not treat all of the relevant passages of scripture but only with a few of them.
2. It may not exegete the verses at all or it may not explain them accurately.
3. It may not deal accurately with the original languages of Scripture or may not even examine the original language (Hebrew or Greek) at all.
4. It may not believe in the inspiration and authority of the passages that treat the subject of divorce and remarriage.
We must conclude that many of the books, booklets, articles and tracts that purport to deal with this serious theme are inadequate. They simply do not give a comprehensive study of this burning issue.
(3) We cannot trust doctrinal statements, confessions of faith, church disciplines, or denominational councils.
Because the problem of divorce and remarriage has grown to such serious proportions in the past couple of decades, local churches and denominational bodies have attempted to formulate doctrinal statements dealing with the issues. However, ecclesiastical policies are as varied as the denominations producing them. One church may state that a couple converted in an adulterous relationship are new creatures and the church will accept their present arrangement, while several smaller groups will insist on their separation. One church may permit divorce on the grounds of marital unfaithfulness while another may allow divorce on the grounds of desertion by the unbeliever. Yet another church may permit the remarriage of the guilty party who has been divorced as well as the innocent party who initiated the divorce. A large number of churches today explain that God understands that some relationships simply have irreconcilable differences and surely He will deal redemptively in these situations to allow divorce and remarriage. And, of course, there are some churches in which nearly any marital relationship is tolerated, if not encouraged.
As various church bodies accept these different policies, they commit them to writing. In this way we find written doctrinal statements or disciplines with many different applications. Some may offer certain passages to substantiate the specific policy that has been passed by the denominational governing body, denominational council, or church board.
The Christian who seeks to know the will of God on the theme of divorce, remarriage, and adultery, will be sadly disappointed in many of these written standards. He will find compromises and justifications. He will discover partial truths and inadequate answers. He will notice ambiguity and confusion. Nothing less than a full Scriptural position will be acceptable to the person who is devoted to the authority of Gods Word.
The Problem and Solution
is Not Altogether Simple
When one begins a study of this crucial subject, he may think that it will be quite simple. He will plan to simply read through the couple dozen of passages of Scripture and make his decisions, based upon what the verses actually say. So he intends and so he proceeds. But as he reads the verses, compares other translations, examines the original languages, checks related verses, studies the context, researches into the history and culture of the time, and compares different views, he will soon discover that what he thought was going to be an hour-long study is evolving into a rather lengthy and involved amount of research. Although some may say that the answers are simple, we soon discover that the issues are more complex than we originally conceived.
We personally have attempted to study this issue out at various times during the past decades (beginning some 35 years ago), and have discovered that some elements of the subject are quite complex. We have literally read and studied dozens of books as well as many dozens (hundreds?) of short magazine articles, tracts, and lengthy journal articles. Much has been profitable while much has served to muddy the waters of the subject. Some writings have offered additional and helpful insights while others were not worth the time and effort to read, much less study, the contents.
Therefore, we have learned that the subjects of divorce and remarriage can be complex and difficult. This experience has convinced this writer that many of those who contend that this matter is quite simple are really speaking out of their ignorance. They just have not thoroughly studied the matter, thus they can confidently affirm their understanding (or possibly misunderstanding). They do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confidence assertions (1 Tim. 1:7).
Suggestions for Your Study
Are we saying that the subject is too complex to understand? No, not at all. Peter stated that some of Pauls writings about future prophecy are difficult to understand, and there are other themes found in the Bible that are similarly difficult (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Yet, Paul, Peter, John, and the other New Testament writers communicated to be understood and we must approach our study with the resolve that we will examine the Biblical evidence and seek Gods answers. Paul wrote that we are to seek to learn what is pleasing to the Lord (Eph. 5:10). He said that the Lord will give you understanding in everything (2 Tim. 2:7). Through the Scriptures, we may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Therefore, while the divorce and remarriage issue is difficult, we must study it with the intention of understanding it and walking in it as God gives us light.
What suggestions would we offer to those who are studying this subject? Consider the following points. First, pray to God for His help and guidance. Like the psalmist, we should pray, Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law (Psalm 119:18). Since God has revealed His will through His Word, we should seek His help as we study that Word.
Second, we would suggest that you read one of our recent books: Do You Really Love the Truth? This short but relevant study should help to give you the motivation you need to study the Word of God on this subject and other vital subjects. You will be able to see why it is so vital that you truly understand the will of God found in the Scriptures.
Third, read the main passages of Scripture that deal with the issue of divorce and remarriage. Use a reliable, standard translation rather than a paraphrase or inferior translation. We would suggest The New American Standard Bible. Along with this, examine another one or two translations for comparison purposes. Following are some of the verses that you will want to read and study:
· Genesis 2:18-24
· Leviticus 18
· Deut. 22:22-30
· Deut. 24:1-4
· Ezra 9:1-10:19, 44
· Prov. 5:15-23
· Isaiah 50:1
· Jeremiah 3:8
· Hosea 2:1-2
· Malachi 2:10-16
· Matthew 1:18-25
· Matthew 5:27-32
· Matthew 19:3-12
· Mark 6:17-18
· Mark 10:2-12
· Luke 16:18
· John 8:1-11
· Romans 7:2-3
· 1 Cor. 5:11
· 1 Cor. 6:9-11
· 1 Cor. 7:10-16,39
· (1 Cor. 7:1-40)
· Ephesians 5:3-7
· Ephesians 5:22-33
· 1 Thess. 4:3-8
· 1 Timothy 4:1-3
· 1 Timothy 5:14
· Hebrews 13:4
· Revelation 2:20-22
Fourth, after you study these and other related passages and have arrived at some tentative conclusions, read our short study, The Amazing Truth About Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage. Although the focus of this study is somewhat limited and does not cover many of the questions that may be raised, it may be a good place to begin. Then you may want to read several other works that deal with this issue. This exercise should help you to understand the main points of controversy.
Fifth, seek understanding of the subject by discussing the matter with the elders or overseers in the community of Christ to which you belong. If there are no overseers in the local body, discuss it with a teacher, a proclaimer, or knowledgeable older brothers or sisters in the faith. This should help even further in your understanding of Gods word in the matter.
Sixth, as you come to understand the will of the Lord on this vital matter, if you discover that you personally are living in an adulterous relationship, be willing to repent of this and forsake this sin of adultery. Be willing to follow through with whatever the will of God would demand. In other words, do not allow the knowledge of Gods will on divorce and remarriage to remain in your mind; actively obey that will in whatever is required.
These suggestions seem to be important in light of the how seriously God views the marital relationship and violations of that relationship.
Final Conclusions and Counsel
A number of miscellaneous points may be offered in light of what we have noticed thus far and in consideration of the importance of marriage and divorce in the sight of God.
(1) Be cautious of coming to conclusions and making applications without having all of the essential answers. Be slow to judge without all of the facts (Prov. 18:13).
(2) Do all you can to resolve your marital problems now, before complicating problems arise that will be difficult to remedy or reverse. Further, seek to solve the marital problems of others before they become even more serious in nature (Isaiah 55:6-7).
(3) Remember that generally the most restrictive view is not the answer–nor is the most liberal view. While few would take the most restrictive view (the most conservative people we have known do not embrace a consistently restrictive view as listed in the earlier list of views), the truth surely is in the conservative direction rather than the liberal end.
(4) It will usually be wise to take the safest position–if there is one. This is true regarding many other issues that we face in life. Thus, if there is any doubt about the rightfulness or wrongfulness of a relationship, take the safest position, if one exists. Regretfully, as we discovered in listing the many different views on divorce and remarriage, sometimes there is NO safe position! Yet, if there is one, take it at least for yourself. However, if there are doubts in your mind, you may need to grant others the liberty to take a different position if there are good reasons for that position. At the same time, be open to further light from God in this serious matter.
(5) If you are presently honorably married, seek to establish some understanding with your partner on what the Bible teaches about divorce and remarriage. Commit yourselves to lifelong fidelity and do all you can to strengthen your marital bond so that nothing can break it. You should also do what you can to help to strengthen the marriages of your friends and fellow-saints, providing the relationships are not adulterous and sinful.
(6) If you are presently single and have questions about the rightfulness of entering a marriage with someone, it is better not to marry him or her at all. If there is some question about your own eligibility for marriage in the sight of God, it is better to remain in celibacy (Matt. 19:12; 1 Cor. 7:1,7-8). Never enter a marital relationship that may possibly be adulterous!
(7) Seek solutions to your marital problems with all of your heart. While many things in life are optional, this is one area in which you must have workable solutions–because of its utter importance! Be willing to study this matter carefully and make it your highest priority until you can rest with the knowledge that you are right before God. Seek first [Gods] kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33a).
(8) Always have a sober realization of how crucial the questions pertaining to marriage, divorce, remarriage, and adultery really are. We are discussing matters that relate not only to time but also to eternity! Simply stated, those who are guilty of unrepentant adultery shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Fornicators and adulterers God will judge (Heb. 13:4; cf. Rev. 21:8).
Let us take seriously what the Word of God reveals about this serious subject and let us submit our hearts and lives to His will in it!
(Additional Note: The first three points listed in the summary were endorsed by Everett Ferguson, editor of Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, editor of Journal of Early Christian Studies, and author of numerous books on early Christianity. In a personal letter, dated June 19, 1995, Ferguson stated, The three points in your letter . . . are an essentially accurate summary of what would seem to be the majority view of the surviving post-apostolic writings. See also J.P. Arendzen, Ante-Nicene Interpretations of the Sayings on Divorce, in Christian Life: Ethics, Morality, and Discipline in the Early Church, ed. Everett Ferguson (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1993), 166-177. Rubel Shelly comments on the early church writings: As a matter of fact, the church fathers do not devote a great deal of space to the discussion of divorce and remarriage. . . . Church history and the uninspired writings of its principle figures do not constitute authority for the beliefs and practices of a child of God. There is not a single element of ones faith which can rest safely upon such a shaky foundation. We must have a single source of complete, infallible, and final authority–we must have the Bible and the Bible alone (Scripture or the Church Fathers? The Spiritual Sword, January 1975, pp. 39-41).