Evolution of the Doctrine of Marriage and Divorce 15


The Evolution of the Doctrine of Marriage and Divorce

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HISTORICAL VIEWS


If the Bible is true then the inspired Bible was completed by the end of the first century.i So let's start at the second century and consider what the church leaders have taught down through the centuries. Please remember that those that disagreed with these sages were considered heretics.



These writings are revered by many because they "lived early enough" to have known the apostles and what they taught. If they ignore or contradict the Lord and his apostles, their teaching is not good. As Paul told Titus: "In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine [shewing] uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech" (Titus 2:7, 8a). There is such a thing as "sound doctrine" (verse 1). Even the "leader", Diotrephes, knew the apostle John but he contradicted the apostle's teaching (3 John 9) and was condemned for it. I don't believe I want to believe anything that Diotrephes might have written if such can be found. In other words, being written concurrently with the Scriptures do not qualify such as Holy Scriptures inspired by God.


Generally, scholars agree that the New Testament documents were all written before the close of the First Century. Jesus was crucified around 30 AD so that leaves 70 years for the Scriptures to be completed as we have them. This means there were plenty of people around when the New Testament documents were written who could have contested any false writings. "But, we have absolutely no ancient documents contemporary with the First Century that contest the New Testament texts."ii


“The Church of the Fathers rejected divorce and remarriage, and did so out of obedience to the Gospel. On this question, the Fathers’ testimony is unanimous,” Archbishop Müller claims in an article for the Roman Catholic Church.iii



(early second century A.D.). Marriage is for life; one can divorce for adultery but cannot remarry.


The Shepherd of Hermas, an "allegory" written possibly early in the second century and is sometimes included in copies of the New Testament (it is in the Sinaitic Codex). iv


A narration in the text: And I said to him, "Sir, if any one has a wife who trusts in the Lord, and if he detect her in adultery, does the man sin if he continue to live with her?" And he said to me, "...But if the husband know that his wife has gone astray, and if the woman does not repent, but persists in her fornication, and yet the husband continues to live with her, he also is guilty of her crime, and a sharer in her adultery." And I said to him, "What then, sir, is the husband to do, if his wife continue in her vicious practices?" And he said, "The husband should put her away, and remain by himself. But if he put his wife away and marry another, he also commits adultery."


Wherefore if any one persists in such deeds, and repents not, withdraw from him, and cease to live with him. Otherwise you are a sharer in his sin.”v But the man cannot remarry because there's always the chance that the woman might repent. And this law applies to both men and women, meaning that men can't cheat on their wives.”vi

Marriage is for life regardless of how a spouse behaves or the sins committed as long as both parties are alive. A spouse has to persist in adulterous behavior before the innocent can terminate the marriage. Divorcees must remain single as long as the spouse lives. No one can marry a divorced person while a former spouse lives. To do so is to commit adultery. God does not sever the “one flesh” except by physical death. The Hermas material does not quote either Matthew 5 or Matthew 19. Yet, the exception clause is recognized by scholars as not being an addition but being originally in the text of Matthew. It would seem to me that if I wanted to say original manuscripts were tampered with, I would expect the removal of the exception.


The interesting thing about this book is that while it contradicts what Jesus said about divorce and remarriage in Matthew, it recognizes adultery as a cause or excepion for divorce. Where did the authors get this from? Although it accepts a divorce, it does not permit remarriage.




The author of the Apocrypha: “The Story of Paul and Thecla” does not teach marriage at all. It has Paul saying, “Blessed are they who have kept the flesh pure, for they shall become a temple of God,” and “Blessed are the bodies of virgins, for they shall be well pleasing to God, and shall not lose the reward of their purity.”vii The text has Paul demanding "that one must fear only one God and live in chastity" which Paul explains to be "virginity." The date of the writing was prior to AD 190; it was disavowed by such as Tertullian.


Such writings appear to have been popular with those ascetics and those who considered sex as dirty in or out of marriage. Remember that such dedicated men as Origen chose castration for the "kingdom of God's sake." He later after study is thought to have realized he'd interpreted Jesus statement in Matthew 19 erroneously.

But the genuine Scriptures of Paul state, "Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost"(1 Corinthians 6:19) and "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled" (Hebrews 13:4). And Paul likewise condemns those that forbid or hinder marriage in 1 Timothy 4:3: "restraining to marry"; i.e., κωλύω Koluo; Thayer's: 1. to hinder, prevent forbid; 2. to withhold a thing from anyone; 3. to deny or refuse one a thing). This apocrypha violates this passage and contradicts Paul's genuine teaching.



“And, Whosoever shall marry her that is from another husband, commits adultery. And, There are some who have been made eunuchs of men, and some who were born eunuchs, and some who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake; but all cannot receive this saying.”


“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.”viii


Martyr believes that marriage is a lifelong covenant. Divorcees must remain single as long as the spouse lives. No one can marry a divorced person while a former spouse lives. To do so is to commit adultery. He ignores Jesus' exception although he was aware of the first verses of Matthew 19 that include the part about the eunuchs. However, the passage referenced states a voluntary abstinence from marriage.





“Should either remain as he was born, or be content with one marriage; for a second marriage is only a fair-seeming 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. ...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” (A Plea for Christians, chapter 33).ix


In his statement, Athenagoras said that he recognizes that his culture is allowing remarriage so he called it “fair-seeming adultery.” Others have translated this statement as, “for a second marriage is only auspicious.”x


Nevertheless Athenagoras is understood to have taught "no second marriage" even for a widowed man.

Athenagoras is understood to have taught "no second marriage" even for a widower.





“Therefore there is nothing meritorious about abstinence from marriage unless it arises from love to God” (Stromata, book 3, chapter 6).xi


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 fornication, 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 adulteress,’ 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” (Stromata, book 2, chapter 24).xii


“Clement says that Matthew 19:9 is obviously teaching about what a man should do if his wife leaves him because of fornication”.xiii

A marriage is for life. No matter what a spouse turns out to be, or how they may act, what they do or don’t do, or the sins they commit, the covenant remains fully in effect. A remarriage while a former spouse lives is not marriage at all, but sinful adultery. God does not divide the one flesh relationship except by physical death. It is a serious mistake to believe that it is simply one’s right to divorce a spouse and take another. Even though human law may permit such a thing, God strictly forbids it, and cannot, and will not honor it.

Clement ignores Jesus' exception in Matthew 5 and 19.


Clement teaches no divorce and that Jesus taught a man to become an eunuch if his wife left him.





Tertullian (160-230)


Tertullian believed that Jesus had changed the Law on divorce. Remarriage after the death of one's spouse was not even allowed. Christians should not remarry, if one of them dies.


Here he talks about marriage and remarriage. He isn't keen on the latter, but [initially] if she must remarry, then it should be another Christian. (In later works he definitely regards remarriage as serial polygamy). He discusses the difference between a woman married to a heathen who then becomes a Christian, and a Christian woman who marries a heathen.  In the former case, the husband's conversion is likely; in the latter, the woman is likely to be ruined.”xiv


Tertullian quotes the Montanist prophetess Priscilla/Prisca (an early "Pentecostalism") with approval.xv

Tertullian believed in no remarriages, period (ignored 1 Corinthians 7:39).




Origen taught that Jesus did not change the Old Testament on divorce. In the case of God being married to Israel, Origen states that God divorced Israel and had a second marriage to the church.


Origen, in his Commentary on Matthew, did not seem as strict as his contemporaries. He noted that Christ rejected "the opinion that a wife was to be put away for every cause" (1.14.16), but he did not seem to rule out divorce completely. Indeed, he admitted that some church leaders "have permitted a (divorced) woman to marry, even when her husband was living," and he confessed that such permission was "not altogether without reason," being undoubtedly a lesser of evils.”xvi

Origen believed that Jesus reconfirmed the divorce cause of Deuteronomy 24:1.





Two early church councils that affected the Roman Church's doctrine on marriage were the “Council of Elvira” (300 A.D.) and the “Council of Aries” (314 A.D.). A couple hundred years after the death of the apostles, leaders in power vigorously opposed remarrying. These two councils actually invalidated one another. The first council decided that all women who remarried were to be excommunicated from the church. The second council decided that women should not be excommunicated although remarriage was still to be frowned upon.



We call the man who lives with another man's wife an adulterer, and do not receive him into communion until he has ceased from his sin (church fathers: letter 199 -St. Basil). The name virgin is given to a woman who voluntarily devotes herself to the Lord, renounces marriage, and embraces a life of holiness.”


“If a man living with a wife is not satisfied with his marriage and falls into fornication, I account him a fornicator, and prolong his period of punishment. Nevertheless, we have no canon subjecting him to the charge of adultery, if the sin be committed against an unmarried woman.”


“Marriages contracted without the permission of those in authority, are fornication.”


“There is no law as to trigamy: a third marriage is not contracted by law. We look upon such things as the defilements of the Church.”xvii Whoever marries a divorced person [regardless of cause] commits "adultery." A marriage covenant is for life no matter how a spouse turns out to be or acts.

Basil re-defines virgin, adultery, fornication, trigamy, and adultery.






Aurelius Ambrosius was an archbishop of Milan who became one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century.


All lawmakers, in and out of the Church are warned, to their peril, to hear and obey the Word of the Lord in regard to His commands on marriage and divorce.

Marriage is permanent. Divorcees must remain celibate and single as long as both spouses live. Anyone marrying a divorcee is committing the sin of adultery.


Ambrose taught that there was no exception for divorce contrary to Matthew 19.






Jerome is the translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible. Jerome, a Latin priest, theologian and historian, who became a “Doctor of the Church”, taught that one can divorce but could not remarry as long as the “ex-spouse” lived. Jerome clearly believed that sex decreases holiness and spoke of the "stain" of marriage.xviii

"If a spouse persists in adulterous behavior and there is no other alternative, the marriage relationship can be terminated by the innocent party."

"Spouses that are divorced for any reason must remain celibate and single as long as both spouses live. Whoever marries a divorced person commits adultery."

"The marriage covenant between a man and a woman is permanent, as long as both husband and wife are alive."


"As long as the husband is alive, even though he be an adulterer ...and is deserted by his wife for his crimes, he is still her husband, and she may not take another."

Jerome believed that sex was dirty even in marriage; there was a legitimate cause for divorce but not remarriage.







Augustine said the only cause for divorce was adultery.

Augustine, an early Latin theologian whose writings are very influential in the development of Western religious philosophy, said that although divorce was permissible, there is to be no remarriage (even after the other's death). To him, marriage was a “church sacrament”; i.e., a religious ceremony or act of the Roman Church and Eastern Orthodoxy that is “regarded as an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual divine grace.”

“It never has been lawful, it is not now lawful, and it never will be lawful to divorce and remarry. To say and do otherwise is to worship and adopt the adulterous superstitions of a different God than the one to which we have to do.”xix He is responsible for making the indissolubility of Christian marriage, even after adultery, the standard of the Western church.

If a spouse persists in adulterous behavior and there is no other alternative, the marriage relationship can be terminated by the innocent party. Spouses must remain celibate. There are no valid reasons for remarriage acceptable to God.


Augustine is responsible for making indissolubility of marriage even after adultery.






We jump to the 13th century, when Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) agreed that marriage was a sacrament. One could divorce in case of adultery, but there was to be no remarriage, ever. He taught that remarriage, even after spouse's death, was “spiritual adultery.” Aquinas sets forth the Roman Catholic dogma on marriage. This is why divorce is not recognized by the Catholic Church. Rather, an “annulment”, an alternative to divorce, has been invented to replace any “divorce.” The Roman Church's annulment means that there was no official marriage in the first place. This allows a “legitimate” (re-)marriage by saying that the first marriage wasn't a marriage to begin with.

Aquinas: marriage is a sacrament, adultery cause for divorce, no remarriage forever. The church can now deliver an annulment. Catholic dogma since 1563.








During the 16th century there was Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), declared by the Roman Catholics a saint in 1935, was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman, and noted Renaissance humanist. He “tried” to bring church doctrine back to the fundamentals of Scripture. To him, marriage was for the pleasure of male and female. He stressed marriage bond, but permitted divorce if the two could not live together. Divorced persons should be allowed to remarry.

Sir More believed in marriage for pleasure, permitted divorce and remarriage for causes.





Erasmus was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, and theologian. Erasmus was a classical scholar who wrote in a pure Latin style. He had the same views as More. He criticized the Catholic Church for having a narrow view on Christ's viewpoint on marriage.

The popular view named after Erasmus and sometimes referred to as the "Protestant view" or the "majority view"xx interprets porneia as a reference to adultery.

Erasmus permitted divorce in cases of cruelty and hatred in addition to adultery.



Decrying the Roman Catholic hierarchy's luring people into celibacy, Martin Luther (1483-1546), a German monk and Catholic priest, professor of theology, and a reform leader, spoke against the belief that Jesus was despising divorce. Luther was flexible on what “just cause” for divorce entailed. Grounds for divorce included continual conflict and hatred, impotency, refusal of marital relations, and desertion. Remarriage is acceptable if the ex-spouse did not change.

Luther wrote, “‘It is still not a good thing (to divorce your wives); but since you are such wicked and unmanageable people, it is better to grant you this much than to let you do worse by vexing or murdering each other or by living together in incessant hate, discord, and hostility.’” xxi

Luther believed in "just cause" for divorce including conflict, hatred, impotency, refusal of marital relations, and desertion.





Tyndale was an English scholar who became a leading figure in the Reformation and is known for his translation and publication of a large amount of the Bible into English. He believed that adultery was the only grounds for divorce. His reasoning was that adultery was a capital offense under the Mosaic Law and under the New Testament was like death. The innocent was able to remarry.

Tyndale taught adultery was the only cause for adultery.







Zwingli, a leader of the Reformation in Switzerland (1484-1531), said that porneia refers to all manner of marital immorality, including spousal abuse and abandonment. Zwingli believed that endangerment of life and insanity were also Scriptural reasons for a divorce.

Zwingli defined the exception fornication as including abuse and abandonment, danger of life and insanity.





Martin Bucer (1491-1551) Protestant reformer in Strasbourg influenced Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican doctrines and practices. Bucer had been influenced by Luther (1518) and consequently had his monastic vows annulled. He would permit divorce by mutual consent.xxii

Bucer permitted divorce by mutual consent.



The Council of Trent was the Roman Church's reaction to the Reformation with its “return back to the Bible.” The council set forth as an official Roman Catholic view on divorce and remarriage as that of Thomas Aquinas' interpretation. They rejected More and Erasmus' liberal interpretation. The indissolubility of marriage was added to the canon law. Since that day Catholic doctrine has been that divorce is unacceptable, but the separation of spouses can be permitted. The Catholic Church maintains that divorce is wrong, but has long accepted that “invalid marriages” can be annulled, and that in these cases a civil divorce can be recognized. Their powers decide if your marriage can qualify to be annulled or not.

Catholic Church officially has authority to decide if marriages are to be annulled. However, there can be no divorce.



Calvin, an influential French theologian during the Protestant Reformation, rejected the Roman Catholic teaching of marriage being a sacrament. He claimed the Catholic Church was in error in teaching Ephesians 5:32's word “mystery” as meaning “sacrament.” Calvin taught that since magistrates did not exist today (to punish adultery) a man has to put away the unfaithful spouse.

Calvin denied that marriage was a sacrament and permitted divorce for unfaithfulness.



The “father of Methodism”, John Wesley (1703-1791) had an Anglican Church background, felt that polygamy was forbidden and no divorced person could remarry as long as the former spouse was alive. The only grounds was being “cheated on.”

Wesley was against polygamy and remarriage of one divorced.







Bullinger, an Anglican clergyman, scholar, and dispensationalist theologian, like, Huldrych Zwingli, before him, says that porneia refers to all manner of marital immorality, including spousal abuse and abandonment.

Bullinger believed the cause of fornication included all marital immorality.





  • Eastern Orthodox Church

    Marriage is a sacrament; the priest or the bishop consecrates the marriage. Marriage is holy and indissoluble. The Church recognizes that Jesus in the Matthew account allowed an exception and hence, the Orthodox Church is willing to allow an exception. The violations of the marriage relationship are (1) unfaithfulness and immoral behavior, and (2) the absence of one of the partners.

    The bishops may apply what is called "economia" in a liberal way. The canon law permits a second and third marriage "in economia", but strictly forbids a fourth.




    Marriage is a sacrament based on the word "mystery" in Ephesians 5. Their catechism states that divorce is immoral because it introduces disorder into the family and society and it brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents, and because of its contagious effect upon society.




    Extramarital unchastity is grounds for divorce. God is able and willing to forgive all sins, including the sin of getting a divorce for trivial reasons.