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8. Is Marriage a Contract for Life?



Like all other gifts of God entrusted to man for the benefit of the human race, the marriage institution was perverted by sin. Divorce and remarriage, as well as other anomalies, were widely established and commonly accepted practices among the nations before the days of Moses. The patriarchs, being men of God, were nevertheless subject to the influence of their environment. Their familiarity with popular customs blinded their eyes, and they were not always able to see sin in the light that God sees it. Abraham and Jacob were polygamists, not because they wanted to defy God and rebel against His law, but because their minds had been affected by the moral conditions that surrounded them, and they could see nothing wrong in certain social customs, like polygamy.


When the children of Israel left Egypt, they brought an Egyptian mentality with them. Divorce and polygamy were permitted among them. Although these practices were completely alien to God's original arrangement, Moses sanctioned them in his civil code, which at least in this respect, was influenced by popular custom. God did not stop Moses from granting such a law, because the Jewish people, still under the influence of regional custom, were not prepared to make great strides to ward the perfect will of Him who rules the universe.


But as the purpose of the gospel is "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10), and as "every divine institution is to be restored" (PK 678), Christ could not be expected to approve those imperfections in the legislation of Moses. The original ideal of the marriage institution must be reinstated-its original purity and beauty must be retrieved-through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.


In the days of Christ, there were among the Jews two schools of thought and practice. One was led by Shammai, who granted divorce on the ground of adultery alone, while the other was under the direction of Hillel, who condoned divorce on any pretext which the husband might have. The Pharisees were often involved in the controversy between these two schools, and now they decided to tempt Jesus by drawing Him into the conflict.


"Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" they asked.


The Lord answered:

"Have ye not read that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, . . . For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh, . . . What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."


The Pharisees objected:

"Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?"

"Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives," Jesus explained, "but from the beginning it was not so." (Read Matt. 19:3-8.)


Jesus made it clear that the bill of divorcement mentioned in the legislation of Moses (Deut. 24:1-5) was not a command, as the Pharisees tried to interpret it, but only a consent based, not on the perfect will of God, but on the hardness of their hearts, which were influenced by social customs. Jesus appealed to Genesis 2:24 against Deuteronomy 24:1-5, showing that, in the plan of salvation, the perfect will of God must triumph over the hardness of man's heart and over any and every consent thereby obtained.


The Christian religion-by putting the marriage institution into operation according to the original plan of God-has done more toward decency, justice, peace, happiness, and civilization than any other power in the world.


"The institution of marriage keeps the moral world in being, and secures it from an untimely dissolution. Without it, natural affection and amiableness would not exist, domestic education would become extinct, industry and economy be unknown, and man would be left to the precarious existence of the savage. But for this institution, learning and refinement would expire, government sink into the gulf of anarchy; and religion, hunted from earth, would hasten back to her native heavens."-T. Dwight.


"How Readest Thou?"

With reference to divorce and remarriage, if we want to have a clear picture before our eyes, we must put together everything that has been written on the subject and consider time, place, and special circumstances. When Jesus confronted the lawyer's question, He did not only say, "What is written?" but also, "How readest thou?" (Luke 10:26). It is dangerous to read the Bible with preconceived ideas, because we may, as a consequence, read our erroneous conclusions into a "Thus saith the Lord," making the Holy Scriptures say what they do not say. Consider this example: It is written that Abraham, who was a polygamist (Gen. 25:6), is our father in the faith (Rom. 4:12; Gal. 3:7). And there are those who read these verses with carnal eyes, proclaiming that polygamy is all right. We may also be tempted to read some Bible verses (Matt. 5:32; 19:9) and some of E.G. White's letters in a similar way. Strange enough, some people seem to be under the impression that Sister White's personal advice, her personal opinion, should be adopted as a doctrinal rule for the church as far as divorce and remarriage is concerned.


To stay on the safe side in this matter, let us take a single hearted look into a few scriptures in an endeavor to obtain answers to some basic questions.


Back to Genesis

If a man divorces his wife for no good reason and marries another woman, it is evident that he, thereby, commits adultery. What is not clear to some people is whether his ex-wife, the in nocent party, is now free to remarry. Should the exception clause found in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, together with Sister White's personal advice concerning a second marriage, be taken as final evidence for a doctrine and a rule in behalf of divorce and remarriage? Some are ready to say, Yes. We, however, differ and, hereunder, we set forth the reasons why we think otherwise.


When Jesus was confronted with the question of divorce and remarriage, He did not introduce an innovation. He simply drew the attention of his hearers to the days of old to the marriage institution as it was originally given by God and as it was protected by God's law and made it clear to them that the concession of Moses was not in harmony with the ideal of God. Considered in its pristine sense, when everything that God had made was very good (Gen. 1:31), the marriage institution was to be considered indissoluble. Read Matt. 19:3-12 and Luke 16:17, 18. Jesus said:


"And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail. [Therefore:] Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery."


Here we have the case of an innocent woman that is divorced from a man who put her away, not with a view to remaining unmarried and chaste, but for the purpose of becoming legally attached to another woman. And, according to the verse, he has already taken this step. Back to our first question: His ex-wife, the innocent party, who has received a bill of divorcement from her adulterous husband is she free now to remarry? No! Jesus said, in Luke 16:18, that if she follows the example of her exhusband, she becomes guilty of the same sin into which he has become involved. Result: two cases of adultery involving four people. On this basic question there is perfect harmony between the gospels (Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:12; Luke 16:18) and the writings of Paul (Rom. 7:1-3; 1 Cor. 7:10, 11, 39): a divorced lady has no right to remarry so long as her husband lives. And we think that the same rule must hold good for a divorced man also.


Harmony Between Christ and Paul

As Paul was well acquainted with the truth as taught by Christ (1 Cor. 11:23, first part), there is perfect harmony between them in the way they handled the marriage institution. (1) Jesus taught that a wife should not leave her husband and a husband should not leave his wife (Mark 10:2-12). Paul taught: "Let not the wife depart from her husband . . . and let not the husband put away his wife." 1 Cor. 7:10, 11. (2) If the exception clause actually belongs to the original, Jesus referred to the problem of fornication as it would often appear in the Jewish society (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). The suspicion of Joseph concerning his betrothed wife is a good example to this effect (Matt. 1:18-20). Paul dealt with the problem of fornication as it commonly occurred in the Greek society. He taught that connubial unions based on fornication must be dissolved (1 Cor. 6:15-18; 7:2). (3) Jesus taught that an in nocent wife put away by her adulterous husband is not permitted to become the wife of another man (Matt. 19:9; Luke 16:18). Paul taught that a wife, though put away by her husband, is still "bound by the law as long as her husband liveth" (1 Cor. 7:10-15, 39; Rom. 7:1-3).


In 1 Corinthians 7:10-15, 39, Paul speaks of Christian wives separated from their unbelieving husbands. Adultery in this case is not mentioned, but its existence is self-evident, because, as a rule, heathen men would certainly become involved with other women after putting away their Christian wives. No amount of naivety would make us believe that they would re main chaste. Nevertheless, the rule set down for the separated wife is irrelevant to the moral (or immoral?) conduct of the husband. So long as the husband lives, a Christian wife who is separated from her husband has only two possibilities-either remain single or become reconciled to him.


In the days of the apostles, those holding certain offices in the church, as well as widows entitled to the ministration of the relief fund, had to meet certain conditions, one of which was blamelessness. Thus only"husbands of one wife" could serve as pastors (bishops) and deacons, and only a widow who "had been the wife of one man" would qualify to be put on the list of those for whom the church had to provide (1 Tim. 3:2, 12; 5:9). For this reason, the Samaritan woman (John 4:l6-18), who had been the wife of more than one husband, and had therefore "broken God's commandments" (Story of Jesus, p. 55), would not meet the requirements. This fact is additional evidence that divorce and remarriage is not in conformity with the perfect will of God.


Legislation of Moses: Divorce and Remarriage Permitted

In the civil legislation given to Israel, a man was permitted to give his wife a bill of divorcement, send her away, and marry another woman. He could even take more than one. Polygamy was tolerated in Israel. And the divorced woman could legally become the wife of another man. Read Deut. 24:1-5.


The question here is: Why did Moses insert in his legislation for the Jewish people a provision which was contrary to the original plan of God and in conflict with the law of God (compare Deuteronomy 24:1, 2 with Matthew 19:3-12 and Luke 16:17, 18)? He did it, Jesus said, because of the hardness of their hearts. With their Egyptian mentality they were not prepared to adopt and appreciate the marriage institution in its original form and beauty and in harmony with the real intent of God's law. Therefore, Moses was permitted to grant them a concession which God actually and explicitly hated (Mal. 2:15, 16).


Another concession which was granted to Israel very much against the will of God, is found in Numbers 11:4-34 and Psalms 78:25-31; 106:14, 15. They wanted to return to the use of flesh as in Egypt, and the Lord let them have their way.


And here is another example: In its true sense, the law of God demands love (Rom. 13:l0)-love toward God and toward our neighbor (Matt. 22:36-40), regardless of whether the neigh bor is a friend or an enemy (Matt. 5:43-45). But the children of Israel were not prepared to understand the law of God in this light. Therefore, they were given a special concession which was later removed by Christ. The Lord said to His hearers:


"Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.... Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Matt. 5:38, 39, 43, 44.


Again we see that, because of the hardness of their hearts, the Jews obtained concessions which did not reflect the perfect will of God. "Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good" (Ezek. 20:25), the Lord said.


If, instead of being lenient, God had strictly imposed His perfect will upon the Jews, forcing them to abide by certain standards which they were not prepared to accept, can we imagine what would have happened? Rebellion after rebellion. And then? Would God have been forced to destroy them utter ly? Only God knows. What is really important for us is that the above facts answer a basic question: While the hearts of God's professed people are in Egypt (Acts 7:39), may they get Egypt oriented concessions? Yes, they may. This has happened also in the days of modern Israel.


Parallel Between Moses and Sister White

The Adventist people have followed in the footsteps of ancient Israel (5T 94). "The same disobedience and failure which were seen in the Jewish church have characterized in a greater degree the people who have had this great light from heaven in the last messages of warning." ST 456. "The church has turned back from following Christ her Leader and is steadily retreating toward Egypt." 5T 217. Therefore, not the perfect will of God (Rom. 12:1, 2), but worldly-minded concessions have prevailed among them even with the consent of Sister White. What she did was similar to what Moses had done before her. Here are a few examples:


Adventists have never considered meat-eating a serious issue. Sister White was tolerant in this matter, although she made it clear that the (true) people of God will discard this practice completely (CH 450; CD 82, 382). Hop plantations (for beer), tobacco fields, and the raising of swine were permitted among the Adventists, while the prophetess recommended that these things should not be made a test of fellowship (2SM 338). Even the eating of pork, she said, was not to be made a test. In the early days of the message, she was not sure if God actually wanted His people to abstain from swine's flesh (lT 206, 207) . If there was tolerance for these worldly practices, it is not hard for us to understand why divorce and remarriage was also tolerated. God never gives a people more light than they can bear.


Not only that. When there are questions concerning which God has not sent a special revelation, the prophet may utter his personal opinion. In so doing, he generally goes along with the beliefs and practices of the church, which are not always cor rect. This we can see in the history of ancient Israel. If a person is called to be God's chosen servant, that does not mean that all his thoughts, and words, and actions are necessarily inspired by God. Evidences show that men of God were not prevented from expressing their human ideas. Thus, Abraham believed that Ishmael should be the heir of God's promise (Gen. 17:15-18); Jacob said, "Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces" (Gen. 37:33); Joshua thought there was war in the camp (Ex. 32:17); Samuel thought Eliab was the Lord's anointed (l Sam. 16:6, 7); Elijah took it for granted that he was the only one on the side of the Lord in Israel (1 Kings 19:14, 18); Nathan the prophet encouraged David to build the temple contrary to the will of God (1 Chron. 17:1-4); John the Baptist had wrong ideas concerning the prophesied opening of prison doors (DA 214, 215); and the twelve had some wrong ideas, too (Luke 9:54, 55; Matt. 16:22, 23; Acts 1:6; John 21:23; etc.). The prevalence of human ideas can be seen also in the history of the Advent people, not only in the areas mentioned above, but also in some other areas. There was a time, for example, when Sister White already a prophetess, thought that in 1844 the door of mercy had actually been closed to the world forever ( lSM 64) and that Sabbathkeeping was not important (lT 76).


The Sacred and the Common

There is no doubt in our minds that Sister White's testimonies are from God, but sometimes, in her letters, she wrote certain things, "not as a revelation from the Lord, but simply as a human opinion." It would be good for us to pay attention to her warning. She said:

"The information given concerning the number of rooms in the Paradise Valley Sanitarium was given, not as a revelation from the Lord, but simply as a human opinion.... In my words, when speaking upon these common subjects, there is nothing to lead minds to believe that I receive my knowledge in a vision from the Lord and am stating it as such.... [F]or one to mix the sacred with the common is a great mistake. In a tendency to do this we may see the working of the enemy to destroy souls.... [T]here are times when common things must be stated, common thoughts must occupy the mind, common letters must be written and information given that has passed from one to another of the workers. Such words, such information, are not given under the special inspiration of the Spirit of God. 1SM 38, 39.


According to this statement, when a prophet writes on common subjects, he may use his personal conclusions without depending on a special revelation from the Lord. And according to examples given before, the prophet may also speak his own mind on subjects which are not so common. When Sister White wrote on the subject of divorce, she could only give her personal advice. In 1868 she, together with her husband, sent the following statement to the Advent Review:


"In cases of the violation of the seventh commandment, where the guilty party does not manifest true repentance, if the injured party can obtain a divorce without making their own cases and that of their children, if they have them, worse by so doing, they should be free....


"Why will not those who are overtaken in crime [adultery] manifest repentance proportionate to the enormity of their crime, and fly to Christ for mercy, and heal, as far as possible, the wounds they have made?


"But, if they will not do as they should, and if the innocent have forfeited the legal right to a divorce, by living with the guilty after his guilt is known, we do not see that sin rests upon the innocent in remaining, and her moral right in departing seems questionable, if her health and life be not greatly endangered in so remaining." RH March 24, 1868.


Consider the warning: "Her moral right in departing seems questionable." To our omniscient God nothing seems questionable. He is always sure. However, when a prophet does not have a special revelation from God, certain issues may seem questionable to him.

Sister White was consulted about a second marriage which had already been consummated. There was a special circum stance: The man had a physical defect which made him sterile. According to the Ellen G. White Estate, he was a "mutilated individual." Sister White wrote: "As you have asked my advice I will freely give it to you." And she wrote: "It may be that this marriage is in the order of God" (2SM 340, 339). If she was not sure, what else could she say but "may be"?


As more and more letters were coming to Sister White, asking her advice in connection with marriage problems, she final ly refused to answer such letters. And she revealed to the church the reason for her refusal to handle such cases: "I do not think," she wrote, "that any such letters as that ought to be placed before me. I do not think it is my work to deal with any such things, unless the case has been plainly opened before me. There should be brethren in the church who have wisdom, who can speak decidedly regarding this case. I cannot understand such things." MS 2, 1913.


As Sister White stated that, without a special revelation from God, she could not understand these problems, and was lately hesitant to give her advice on these things, and as there is evidence that she did not want the church to use her writings "as a law or rule in dealing with these questions of marriage, remarriage, and adultery," we think it safer, in this particular matter, to use only the Bible.

In a letter to a worker (Jan. 6, 1931), W.C. White brought this evidence to light when he mentioned certain "documents" or writings of Sister White. He wrote:


"After reading the documents I today send you, you will say, 'Well, he has not given me anything authoritative from Sister White that directly answers the question.' But I think you will see from what I am sending you that it was Sister White's intention that there should not go forth from her pen anything that could be used as a law or a rule in dealing with these questions of marriage, divorce, remarriage, and adultery."-Unscriptural Divorces and Social Relationships, pp. 47, 48.


If these writings of Sister White had been included along with her personal letters in AH 344 and 2SM 339, 340, not so many believers would be tempted to make a wrong use of those letters.


It is obvious that, if those letters were not included in the nine volumes of Testimonies for the Church, they should not be used as a rule or law in the church.


The Spirit of Prophecy warns us that the Bible and the Bible alone is to be the foundation of our faith (GC 173; 238; 595; FE 451; COL 39, 40; 2SM 85). When people cannot substantiate their ideas with a clear and unquestionable "Thus saith the Lord" quoted from the Bible, and therefore seek forbidden support in Sister White's personal letters, as is the case of those who advocate divorce and remarriage, it is evident to us that they are heading in the wrong direction. She warns us:


"Lay Sister White right to one side. Lay her to one side. Don't you ever quote my words again as long as you live, until you can obey the Bible." UT 167.


There is another letter by W.C. White (Oct. 6, 1911) which shows that there was progressive strictness in Sister White's attitude toward the question of divorce and remarriage. He says:


"Mother has received during the last twenty years many letters making inquiry regarding the matters about which you write, and she has many times written in reply that she had no advice to give different from that of the apostle Paul. Recently she has refused to deal with letters of this character, and tells us not to bring them to her attention." -Unscriptural Divorces and Social Relationships, p. 47.

So, while Sister White does not allow us to use her personal letters as a rule or law in this matter, she comes to a point where she has no other advice but that of the apostle Paul (Rom. 7:1-3; 1 Cor. 7:11, 39).


Together with Sister White we abide by the instructions of the apostle Paul. No one will forfeit eternal life by following his advice, but there is danger in going contrary to his counsel. Why should we change a safe road for a hazardous path, if we are honestly interested in salvation and if we believe that the door of probation is soon to close?


Who Alone is Infallible?

It is known that, from its every inception, the SDA Church has endorsed the practice of divorce and remarriage for the innocent party and that Sister White has never been opposed to this practice. And there is more: In some cases divorce and remarriage for reasons other than adultery was also tolerated, even with the written consent of Sister White. This is clearly stated in the publication entitled Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the Writings of Ellen G. White, issued by The Ellen G. White Estate, Jan. 20, 1983, as well as in the Spectrum, vol. 7, no. 2. So, if the concessions used in the days of Sister White are actually valid today for those who are preparing for translation, and if the advocates of divorce want to be consistent with themselves, then they must extend their tolerance beyond the limits that they are actually willing to concede. In other words, if they endorse everything that the church did as far as concessions are concerned, then they are not far from sanctioning divorce and remarriage also for reasons other than unfaithfulness to the marriage vow. We think that in this case the following warnings from the servant of the Lord are very appropriate:


"In regard to infallibility, I never claimed it; God alone is infallible. His word is true, and in Him is no variableness, or shadow of turning." 1SM 37.


"We cannot hold that a position once taken, an idea once advocated, is not, under any circumstances, to be relinquished. There is but One who is infallible-He who is the way, the truth, and the life." TM 105.


"We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn. God and heaven alone are infallible. Those who think that they will never have to give up a cherished view, never have occasion to change an opinion, will be disappointed." 1SM 37.


"[T]he Holy Spirit will, from time to time, reveal the truth through its own chosen agencies; and no man, not even a priest or ruler, has a right to say, You shall not give publicity to your opinions, because I do not believe them....


"Even Seventh-day Adventists are in danger of closing their eyes to truth as it is in Jesus, because it contradicts something which they have taken for granted as truth but which the Holy Spirit teaches is not truth." TM 70.


"Light, brethren, more light we need. Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm in the holy mountain. Gather the host of the Lord, with sanctified hearts, to hear what the Lord will say unto His people; for He has increased light for all who will hear." TM 410.


An important area in which the Lord is willing to bless His people with more light is the area of the original institutions of God. In her last days Sister White wrote:


"In the time of the end, every divine institution is to be restored." PK 678.


The institutions which God's people have inherited from Eden are: the Sabbath, health reform, and marriage. At the end of her ministry, Sister White appealed for a reformation in the lives of God's people in connection with these original principles, and, today, her appeal is still in force. Now that the second coming of Christ is at the door, this is our last chance to meet God's perfect and complete ideal for His people.


Read about the law and the Sabbath in Isaiah 8:13-16, 20 61:1-4; 58:12-14; about health reform in Isaiah 22:12-14, 22-24; and about marriage in Malachi 2:13-17.


Two Difficult Texts

The professed Christian churches are sharply divided on the interpretation and application of Matthew 5:32; 19:9.


When we turn to Matthew 5:32, we understand that the main purpose of this passage is to show how a man is to act so that he will not cause his wife to commit adultery. Mark the words pointing out the conditions under which he will or will not become responsible for her sin:


"But I say unto you, That 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." Matt. 5:32.


In this passage, the woman plays a passive role. She has no choice. She is simply put away, and this may happen under two different circumstances:

a) When she is innocent


An innocent woman, if forced to separate from her husband, commits adultery by getting married to another man. In this case, her first husband shares the responsibility of her sin because it is he that "causeth her to commit adultery" by putting her away.


b) When she is guilty of fornication

If the wife is guilty, it is all right for her husband to put her away and become free from his obligations toward her, and by so doing he is not responsible for her sins, whether past or future.


This scripture, as can be seen, is primarily concerned with the husband's responsibility toward his wife. It shows under what circumstances he may become guilty in connection with her transgressions. There is no word, however, concerning his right to remarry. The second purpose of this passage is to teach that a divorced woman has no right to become the wife of another man. The reasons why or the circumstance under which she got a divorce do not seem to influence the prohibition. The law is unconditional: 'Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery." Matthew 5:32 does not teach that remarriage is permissible.

Even some advocates of divorce and remarriage avow that the above idea is all that is contained in Matthew 5:32. A professor of Systematic Theology admits:


"Jesus says nothing here with respect to the question of the remarriage of the man who puts away his wife for the cause of fornication.... And this is the only case in which, according to Christ's ambiguous assertion, a man may dismiss his wife without being involved in the sin which Jesus proceeds to characterize as making his wife to be an adulteress.... All that is stated is that if the husband puts [her] away for this reason [fornication] he is not involved in the sin specified [her later adultery]."-John Murray, Divorce, pp. 20, 21.


The other text reads:

"Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." Matt. 19:9.


The meaning of "fornication" as distinguished from "adultery" will be explained a little later. In the first place, we just want to draw the attention of the reader to a question which is often raised: Does this clause ("except it be for fornication") apply only to the putting away of the guilty wife or does it necessarily extend to the remarriage of the innocent husband? From a purely grammatical standpoint, it can be said that by the exception clause the innocent husband is allowed to repudiate his guilty wife, but it cannot be dogmatized that, by the same clause, he is automatically permitted to remarry. The grammatical construction of the verse makes this second right questionable. To clarify this point, an example may be helpful. The verse in Matthew 5:32 may be paraphrased as follows:

"Whosoever is angry with his brother, except there is a cause, and says to him, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."


To make the point still clearer let us analyze the following sentence:

"Whosoever is angry with his brother, except there is a cause, and kills him, shall be kept out of heaven because of murder."

What does the exception clause allow you to do? If you think you have a cause, you may become angry with your brother. Read Eph. 4:36. But don't pull the exceptive clause too far. So, while the exception in Matthew 19:9 permits the first step (separation), it does not necessarily apply to the second step (remarriage). Separation without remarriage is clearly taught in the last part of the same verse, where we read that the innocent lady, divorced from her adulterous husband, has no right to become the wife of another man. Separation without remarriage is also taught in Luke 16:18; 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11, and is implied in Romans 7:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7:39; 1 Timothy 3:2, 12; 5:9.


For Matthew 19:9, it should be borne in mind that important codices support a variant form which reads "maketh her to commit adultery" instead of "committeth adultery," putting Matthew 19:9 in perfect alignment with Matthew 5:32. (See comments on Matthew 5:32.)


In our analysis of these two verses (Matt. 5:32; 19:9) we must bear in mind, however, that fornication and adultery are not one and the same thing.

Porneia and Moikeia

For the transgression of the seventh commandment under two different circumstances, the New Testament uses two different words-fornication (porneia) and adultery (moikeia). Both sins are mentioned side by side, which indicates that they are not used synonymously. See examples: Matt. 15:19; Mark 7:21; 1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19; Heb. 13:4.


In a strictly technical sense, fornication is not adultery. The following definitions and quotations may help us understand the distinction:

Fornication: "Illicit sexual intercourse on the part of an unmarried person."-Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. "Sexual intercourse between unmarried persons or between a married and an unmarried person."-The Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English.


"As fornication signifies no more than the unlawful connection of unmarried persons, it cannot be used here (Matt. 5:32) with propriety, when speaking of those who are married." Clarke's Commentary.


"In its more restricted sense fornication denotes voluntary sexual communion between an unmarried person and one of the opposite sex. In this sense the fornicators (pornoi) are distinguished from the adulterers (moichoi) as in 1 Corinthians 6:9." Baker's Dictionary of Theology.


Adultery: "Generally speaking, [adultery is] voluntary sexual intercourse between two people, one or both of whom is married to someone else. Ordinarily, the crime of the married person is adultery, of the other, fornication."The National Encyclopedia.


"Adultery. Sexual intercourse of a married person with other than the marriage partner.... Adultery is technically distinguished from fornication, which is intercourse between unmarried persons."-Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia.


Because the distinction between fornication and adultery, and between a betrothed wife and a wedded wife is often over looked, Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 are regarded as allowing divorce and remarriage in cases where the prior marriage was broken by reason of adultery.


In Jewish society, it was the duty and prerogative of the father to secure wives for his sons. When the marriage agreement was made with the family of the intended bride, the damsel was brought into the presence of her suitor, and both simply acquiesced to the arrangements made. This was called espousing or betrothing.


"There was generally an interval of ten or twelve months, and sometimes considerably more, between the time of making the marriage contract, or the day of espousals, and the marriage itself.... During all this interval, however, while the bride continued still in her father's house, she was considered and spoken of as the lawful wife of the man to whom she was betrothed; so that the bridegroom could not destroy their engagement, if he became unwilling to marry her, without giving her a bill of a divorcement, in the same manner as if she had been fully wedded; and so, on the other hand, if she proved unfaithful to her espoused husband [during the betrothal period], she was punished [in the same way] as an adulteress."-John W. Nevin, A Summary of Biblical Antiquities, pp. 123, 124.


The first problem that a man had to face when contemplating marriage was, as the Bible shows, the possible unfaithfulness of his betrothed wife during the engagement period. This contingency was covered by the legislation of Moses as follows:


"If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her, . . . I and say, I took this woman and when I came to her, I found her not a maid, . . . and . . . if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her a city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father's house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.... If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbor's wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you." Deut. 22:13, 14, 20, 21, 23, 24.


Note in these verses that man and woman were regarded as husband and wife during the time of betrothal, before their, cohabitation in actual marriage. And the unfaithfulness of the damsel during this period was called whoredom (i.e., porneia in the Septuagint). The suspicion of Joseph about Mary is an example of what was understood as porneia (fornication) on the part of a betrothed wife.


We read:

"When as his [Jesus'] mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not will ing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost." Matt. 1:18-20.


While Joseph and Mary were husband and wife only in the sense that they were betrothed to each other, and, therefore, prior to their coming together in actual marriage, we read that Jesus was born. Trying to capitalize on this circumstance and to destroy His reputation, the Jews said to Jesus: "We be not born of fornication." John 8:41. It is evident, therefore, that they used the term "fornication" for sexual crime committed by a betroth ed wife before the actual marriage had taken place. It was in this sense that they used their base insinuation. Sister White comments on this incident:


"In mockery they [the Jews] answered, 'We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.' These words, in allusion to the circumstances of His birth, were intended as a thrust against Christ in the presence of those who were beginning to believe on Him." DA 467.


Whether the unfaithfulness (or fornication) of a betrothed wife was found out before or right after the actual marriage, the innocent husband was free to reject her, according to a provision contained in the legislation of Moses. And, pursuant to the exceptive clause (which is a clear reference to this provision), the innocent husband still has the same right, but it is questionable whether in the days of Jesus and the apostles a husband could cause his wife to be stoned according to the law. Anyhow, under the New Dispensation, the words of Jesus vindicating the perfect will of God as revealed in His original plan in Eden must have given rise to serious questions. For example: If a man is not permitted to put away his wife, what if he finds out that his betrothed wife has committed fornication? That would, as we mentioned before, be the first problem a man would have to face when getting married a problem foreseen in the legislation of Moses, which was brought up in the discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees.


Once the above circumstances are admitted in connection with Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, it should not be difficult to understand that the purpose of the exception clause (whether originally spoken by Jesus or later interpolated by a copyist) was to show that a man is free to reject his betrothed wife for the crime of premarital unfaithfulness.


By the way, we must at this juncture touch a rather delicate point. Women who have conscience problems concerning their past conduct often seek advice. And our ministers should be prepared to handle such problems and answer questions with one accord. We think that, before final marriage arrangements are made, a woman who was morally involved should confess her past mistakes to the man whom she is going to marry. Using the biblical terminology, we would say: In the case of fornication, a betrothed wife should confess the fact to her betrothed husband before the marriage takes place. It is true, on the one hand, that through such a confession, he may lose interest in her. But, on the other hand, it is also true that concealment may bring serious consequences. Her previous sin and present deception may be found out. In some countries, if the newlywed husband appears before the Justice of the Peace with the complaint that he was deceived because his bride was not a virgin, he has the legal right to demand that the marriage be declared null and void. And his request is granted. But what if she keeps quiet and the fact is never found out by her husband? Then she is not a truly repentant Magdalene, and later on, her troubled conscience may start tormenting her for having practiced deception. Men and women who have gone through the experience of genuine repentance and conversion will make confessions to each other before they are bound together by the marriage vow.


As explained before, fornication committed by a betrothed wife (before the marriage) is one thing, and adultery committed by a wedded wife (after the marriage has been consummated) is another thing. But there is yet another circumstance under which the exception clause (Matt. 5:32; 19:9) may have an application if a man and a woman are living together in fornication. Paul referred to such a condition when he wrote:


"Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.... Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.... [T]o avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband." 1 Cor. 6:15-18; 7:2.


In a situation where this sin is present, Matthew 19:9 could be understood as follows: "And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife [unless he is not lawfully married but is living in fornication] and shall marry another, committeth adultery." With reference to the exception clause (Matt. 5:32; 19:9), why should we ignore situations in which the term "fornication" fits unquestionably and imagine a situation in which its use is very questionable (a situation which would require confusing fornication with adultery)?

When the disciples understood the restrictions which involve the marriage institution, they expressed their conclusion: "If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry." Adding to their conclusion, Jesus said: "And there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake" (Matt. 19:10, 12). For those who cannot restore their broken marriage, celibacy seems to be the safest position.


Celibacy was also recommended by E.G. White and her husband, not as a general rule, but as an individual attitude in some cases in which a person may have doubts, fearing that marriage with its bitter anguish could endanger his entrance into the kingdom. They wrote:


"If Paul could remain single, and recommend the same to others, that he and they might be wholly the Lord's, why not those who would be wholly his, . . . remain as he was? And more, if he chose to remain so, and could recommend it to others, eighteen centuries since, would not to remain as he was, be a commendable course for those who are waiting for the coming of the Son of man, unless evidences were unquestionable that they were bettering their condition, and making Heaven more sure by so doing? When so much is at stake, why not be on the sure side every time?" RH March 24, 1868.


"All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.... He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." Matt. 19:11, 12.


Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

The correct interpretation of certain texts depends on an understanding of regional and contemporary conditions on which these texts stand. This is true especially with verses referring to the marriage institution. In Jewish society, the initiative in seeking a divorce would always come from the husband. An investigator of the subject under discussion says: "Among the Jews the wife and the husband were not on an equality; the husband might commit whoredom with an unmarried woman without being an adulterer; the wife was an adulteress when she fell into similar transgression."-Theodore D. Woolsey, Divorce and Divorce Legislation, p. 68.


From this standpoint, Jewish custom could be compared to a one-way street. In fact, the Old Testament, especially the legislation of Moses, is full of evidence that what a man could do to his wife, a woman could not do to her husband. On this particular, Jesus did not contradict the traditions of the Jewish nation. Therefore, if you are looking in the teachings of Jesus for a reference to the supposed right of a woman to divorce her husband, you are looking for a reference that does not exist. Neither Matthew, nor Mark, nor Luke suggests that a woman was able to divorce her husband. And in case of divorce (when a man divorced his wife), or, in case of separation, Paul (Rom. 7:1-3; l Cor. 7:10, 11, 39) agrees with Matthew (5:32; 19:9), Mark (10:2-12), and Luke (16:18) that a woman is not free to remarry. This is just one more fact that is often overlooked by the advocates of divorce who draw their conclusions from Matthew 5:32 and 19:9.


It is true that a man, as mentioned before, had more rights than a woman, but Matthew 19:9, which is often invoked in this connection, does not say explicitly that a man is free to remarry because of adultery on the part of his wedded wife. Those who bear in mind the plausible explanations given in previous pages will not try to extort questionable concessions from the exception clause.


Conscience Severely Tested

After these considerations, we should be prepared to answer another question. Shortly before the days of Christ's ministry, there is, hypothetically, a group of faithful Jews whose hearts are in Canaan, not in Egypt. As they are under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they have a clear perception of. what the Lord meant when He said: "Ye shall be holy; for I am holy" (Lev. 11:44). And, although they have never seen Christ, they have a correct understanding of the original institutions of God. They see marriage in the light of God's plan at the beginning of the world and can only say what Christ would have said (Matt. 19:3-12; Luke 16:17, 18). The question now is: Should they, against their conscience, put the concession of Moses (Deut. 24:1, 2) above the original plan of God (Gen. 2:24)? What argument should they use when people confront them with the legislation of Moses?


History repeats itself. Let us turn our attention to the early days of the Advent Movement. There are some faithful believers who understand that God wants them to keep the Sabbath and abstain from pork-eating. This actually happened. Sister White is not yet convinced on these points (lT 76, 206, 207) and she makes her opinion known. So these people know what the Bible says and

what the prophetess thinks. Now, what should these sincere believers do in this particular case?


As the reader can see, under certain circumstances, the con science of some people may be severely tested when they have important doctrinal issues before them and when they see that the concessions or conclusions of the prophet on these issues are not in harmony with the perfect will of God. Dear reader, place yourself hypothetically among these conscientious believers, read James 4:17, pray earnestly to God, and decide for yourself what you would do. Would you consciously and conscientiously use a concession that does not meet the perfect will of God? The decision is entirely yours.


A similar decision, under similar circumstances, is required of us in connection with the divorce and remarriage issue.


The SDA Reform Movement came into existence primarily as a sincere effort to restore the broken law of God, when the SDA Church allowed and in many cases even encouraged her members to take a combatant position seven days a week, including the Sabbath, during World War I. The matter of divorce and remarriage, which also affects the law of God, was not discussed at that time. Nevertheless, it is our duty before God to give attention to this point, because an important principle is involved. On this question, we do not share the stand taken by the Adventist Church.


Take for example the case of a man who has fallen in sin without continuing in it. He repents and, with tears in his eyes, confesses his fault and asks his wife to forgive him. If she refuses to do so and takes her husband's wrongdoing as a pretext to leave him and join another man, we think that the legitimacy of her purpose must be seriously questioned. Her motives seem to be altogether licentious, and her sin should be regarded as greater than his. In such a case, we believe that repentance, reconciliation, and restoration is still the best way, especially if the couple has children.


To us it has always been clear that, while divorce was in harmony with a lower spiritual condition, where the tolerance of God was manifested, it does not agree with the highest spiritual condition, where the perfect will of God is to prevail (Eph. 2:1-6; Rom. 12:1, 2). Nevertheless, from the beginning of our existence as a movement, we have understood that it is bet ter to err on the side of mercy than on the side of severity (Ed 294), but, keeping in mind the law of God (Luke 16:17, 18) we can not use too much leniency in connection with marriage problems. In the early days of the Reform Movement (1931) it was decided that those who are divorced and remarried when they come to the knowledge of the truth and apply for membership in our church, may be received in the condition in which the truth finds them, provided they are legally married. If they are repentant, God is willing to forgive the mistakes they made in times of ignorance (Acts 17:30). And, as far as we are concerned, it is not our mission to dissolve or destroy families to the detriment of innocent children who need the combined love and care on the part of father and mother. But when people become members of the Reform Movement, they assume before God and the church a serious commitment to the effect that they will henceforth uphold the principles that we stand for. After that, if they still want to change their mind (Eccl. 5:4, 5), doing what they have solemnly pledged themselves not to do, they forfeit their membership rights in our organization. Can you, dear reader, imagine what would happen if we decided to compromise our position in this area? The floodgates of evil would be opened, and we would possibly have to face an uncontrollable situation.



The main purpose of this writing is to focus on the question of divorce and remarriage for the guilty party because this is a conscious, voluntary and glaring violation of the law of God, where no excuse at all can be used. On this point, we do have a controversy with the SDA Church. God says to all who are reformers: "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins." Isa. 58:1.


According to the SDA Church Manual, both husband and wife, both the innocent and the guilty party, are allowed to remarry, with the distinction that the innocent party is granted priority in taking this step. This is the new rule:


"A guilty spouse, who is divorced, has not the moral right to marry another while the innocent spouse still lives and remains unmarried and chaste. Should he or she do so, he or she, if a member, shall be disfellowshiped. The person whom he or she marries, if a member, shall also be disfellowshiped....


"A guilty spouse who has violated his or her marriage vow and has been divorced and disfellowshiped and who has remarried, or a person who has been divorced on other than the grounds set forth in section 1 and has remarried, and who has been disfellowshiped from the church, shall be considered as standing under the disapproval of the church and thus ineligible for membership except as hereinafter provided.


"The marriage contract is not only more sacred but also in finitely more complex than ordinary contracts in its possible involvements; for example, in the factor of the children who may be born. Hence, in a case where any endeavor by a genuinely repentant offender to bring his marital status into line with the divine ideal presents apparently insuperable problems, his or her plea for readmittance shall, before final action is taken, be brought by the church through the pastor or district leader to the conference committee for counsel and recommendation as to any possible steps that the repentant one, or ones, may take to secure such readmittance.


"Readmittance to membership of those who have been disfellowshiped for reasons given in the foregoing sections, shall be on the basis of rebaptism.


"When a person who has been involved in divorce proceedings is finally readmitted to church membership, . . . every care should be exercised to safeguard the unity and harmony of the church by not giving such a person responsibility as a leader; especially in an office which requires the rite of ordination, unless by very careful counsel."-SDA Church Manual, chapter 15, pp. 268-270 (1981 edition).


The Manual says (1) that the guilty party is allowed to remarry after the innocent party has taken this step, and that, in case disfellowshipment is necessary, (2) the guilty party can be refellowshiped with the second spouse. Practice, deeply regretted by many honest SDA's, shows that in many cases even the priority right established by the conjunction "while . . . " is only a theoretical delusion. In this respect, we have heard many complaints from earnest Adventists. The problem is exemplified hereunder:


"Some years ago a professional man had a succession of flirtations with various of his secretaries. He finally divorced his wife (a very fine and outstanding woman), who was not un-faithful to him and married the current girl concerned. He and his new wife attended the same church that his first wife and three children attended. Of course, he and the new wife were disfellowshiped. They continued to attend church. Some years later he and the new wife and baby moved elsewhere. He succeeded in convincing the church leaders there that they should be taken back into church fellowship, which was done by baptism.


"Another professional man became infatuated with a musician. He lived with her for several months, finally returned to his wife and four children. Then he left again and divorced his wife, who had worked hard for years to help care for them and their children while he was climbing the ladder to success. His wife had not been unfaithful to him. He married the other girl and had a baby. He was disfellowshiped from the church. The second wife had not been a church member. Some years later, after large financial gifts to the denomination, he is now a local elder in one of our churches.


"The wife of one of our ministers was visiting a church one Sabbath, where she and her husband had once labored. She was horrified to see a man and wife baptized into the church whom she knew to be guilty parties in previous divorces. She wept through the service.

"Several ministers told a couple that they were living in sin, and could not be taken back into the church. One was a guilty party, and the other the innocent party to previous divorces. Then other ministers came along and told them that they were not living in sin, that they could and should be rebaptized and taken back into the church, which was done. This has brought confusion and division in the church, with the loss of souls.


"This problem of divorce and remarriage is an increasingly serious problem to this denomination, because of differences of opinion."-Marguerite S. Williams, M.D. and Roy O. Williams, D.D.S., Unscriptural Divorces and Social Relationships, pp. 1, 2 (fourth edition, 1956).


The seriousness of this situation was admitted in one of the most outstanding SDA publications:

"Divorce and remarriage is the most perplexing and bewildering problem facing the church today."-Ministry, Sept. 1954, p. 17.

This is one of our greatest concerns as we consider the moral and spiritual condition of the SDA Church today.


The Spirit of Prophecy says:

"'These are perilous times for the church of God, and the greatest danger now is that of self-deception. Individuals professing to believe the truth are blind to their own danger and wrongs. They reach the standard of piety which has been set up by their friends and themselves, they are fellowshiped by their brethren, and are satisfied, while they entirely fail to reach the gospel standard set up by our divine Lord. If they regard iniquity in their hearts, the Lord will not hear them. But with many it is not only regarded in the heart, but openly carried out in the life; yet in many cases the wrongdoers receive no rebuke."' 1T 214.


"Many, like the king of Israel, follow their own carnal de sires, and enter into unsanctified marriages. Many who started out in life with as fair and promising a morning, in their limited sphere, as Solomon had in his exalted station, through one false and irrevocable step in the marriage relation, lose their souls, and draw others down to ruin with them." 2BC 1031.


"There are many unhappy marriages because of so much haste. Two unite their interest at the marriage altar, by most solemn vows before God, without previously weighing the mat ter, and devoting time to sober reflection and earnest prayer. Many move from impulse. They have no thorough acquaintance with the dispositions of each other. They do not realize that the happiness of their whole life is at stake. If they move wrong in this matter, and their marriage life proves unhappy, it cannot be taken back. If they find they are not calculated to make each other happy, they must endure it the best they can." 3SG 120.



The marriage relation that unites husband and wife is com pared to the relation which exists between Christ and His church. Read Eph. 5:32: 23-32; GC 381.


The most important aspect of the parallel between the symbolic and the literal marriage, as Paul brings it out, is the wife's subjection to her husband and the husband's love for his wife.


"For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it." Eph. 5:23-25.


But there may be some negative aspects, too. What happens, for example, when those who profess to be God's church prove unfaithful? He rejects them and chooses others.


"Because they failed of fulfilling God's purposes, the I children of Israel were set aside, and God's call was extended to other peoples. If these too prove unfaithful, will they not in like manner be rejected?" COL 304.


"For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee." Rom. 11:21.


Does this fact suggest that if apostasy brings a change in the relation between God and His professed people, then there must also be a similar change in the relation between husband and wife in case of adultery? Some say yes. As circumstances may prompt God to reject His professed church and choose another, it has been suggested that under similar circumstances a husband may also divorce his wife and marry another woman. It is claimed that there must be a perfect parallel.


We understand that a comparison between the two cases (Christ and the church/husband and wife) establishes only a limited parallel.


While a man's wife is just one person, Christ's church is a family (Eph. 2:19; 6T 168; DA 835; 4T 110). When there is apostasy in the church, at least some of its members remain loyal to the truth. God has never been left without a true remnant (Rom.11:5). So, through a succession of faithful remnants, God has had one faithful church on earth from the beginning until now. In this sense, God has never cast away or withdrawn His presence from His true church (Rom. 11:1, 2; Matt. 28:20), and the gates of hell have never prevailed against her (Matt. 16:18).


"From the beginning, faithful souls have constituted the church on earth. In every age, the Lord has had His watchmen, who have borne a faithful testimony to the generation in which they lived. These sentinels gave the message of warning; and when they were called to lay off their armor, others took up the work. God brought these witnesses into covenant relation with Himself, uniting the church on earth with the church in heaven. He has sent forth His angels to minister to His church, and the gates of hell have not been able to prevail against His people." AA 11.


In case of open apostasy, the unfaithful majority is referred to as an adulterous mother, while the faithful remnant is ad dressed as a virgin daughter (Hos. 2:2). When the mother is rejected, none other than the daughter takes her place in the symbolic relationship between God and His people. In the spiritual relationship, even two daughters may be considered (Ezek. 23:1 18). As can be seen, a parallel here is impossible between the spiritual and the literal marriage.


But there is another aspect where a parallel is possible: God does not reject His people immediately in case of apostasy. He still pleads with them to give up their sin. He rejects them only if they refuse to repent. Read Isa. 1:4, 15-27; 2 Chron. 36:14-16. So, in the literal marriage relationship, neither the Bible nor the Spirit of Prophecy encourages divorce where there has been genuine repentance. Read AH 346. In the spiritual relationship, where God has already divorced His people because of inveterate apostasy, He still appeals to the adulterous mother church to return to Him, and He promises to forgive her and take her back on condition of repentance and conversion (Jer. 3:1, 7-14, 20-22; Rom. 11:15, 23).


These circumstances show that the advocates of divorce and remarriage are making at least two mistakes: (1) where a parallel is possible they refuse to draw a parallel, because they are not ready to grant the guilty part a chance to repent and become reconciled to the injured marriage partner and because they overlook the harm that would be done to the children (AH 346); (2) and where a parallel is clearly impossible, because it would suggest incest (Ezek. 23:1-18), there they want to draw parallel.

We are sorry, but we cannot agree with them on these points. Our duty is to help sinners, as far as possible, find repentance, forgiveness of sins, and reconciliation.



By T. W. Woolsey

The doctrine of the ancient church on divorce was tolerably well established long before marriage came to be regarded as a sacrament in the more modern sense of that term. At the same time, the sacramental character attached to marriage strengthened the view which Scripture authorized of its fixed and indissoluble nature. Even death was held by some, although never by the prevalent opinion, to be no dissolution of the bond. The original source of the doctrine was, of course, the declarations in the gospel, which were honestly and laboriously interpreted with a pretty uniform result long before the doctrine of the sacraments was developed. This doctrine did not first teach the unlawfulness of dissolving the marriage tie but took that view from the Scriptures and from the firm prevalent opinion already spread through the church. Afterward, however, the sacramental nature of marriage, without doubt, acted back to give more of rigor to marriage and to impede its dissolution. With this and before this the Christian spirit of forgiveness had an important influence on opinion in regard to divorce. The high sin of either party against the union might be repented of and God could forgive it. Why should not the parties be reconciled also? But for this, it was necessary that they should remain unmarried. When forgiveness and restoration ad integrum became canonically lawful, there was naturally less need of relaxation in favor of a final separation with liberty of remarriage. These three then, Christ's law in the Gospel and as explained by Paul, the sacramental quality of marriage, the Christian duty of forgiveness, gave the shape of the doctrine of divorce in the ancient church. If the marriage had not been a Christian one, that is, had had no sacramental character, a complete divorce might take effect in the following cases, and in these only. In the first place, an infidel converted to Christianity was to put away all his wives but the first. As however in this instance there was no true marriage according to Christian doctrine with any but the first wife, there was no real divorce in ceasing to have any relation to the others, who were merely concubines. Secondly, a converted infidel, who had put away his wife and married another, was required to take back again the first, even if she should have contracted a second marriage. Here again there was no true divorce, for the I divorce and remarriage of both the parties was regarded as unlawful. Thirdly, if an infidel became a convert to Christianity, and his or her married partner was unwilling to keep up the marriage relation on any terms, or at least not without blaspheming God or leading the other into mortal sin, the Christian might be separated from the infidel so as to contract a new marriage. This decision of the church was based on an interpretation of 1Corinthians 7:15.... And here only have we an instance of true divorce. All other cases, such as marriage to a Jew of a person already a Christian, marriage of a Catholic to a heretic, or schismatic, either render the marriage void ab initio- which is not divorce in the proper sense-or merely justified a separation a mensa et toro, if even that were allowable.


A very early and important passage on divorce is contained in the Shepherd of Hermas (ii Mandat. 4, par. 1). We will give it in English.


"And I said to him, Master, let me ask thee a few things. Say on, says he, and I said, If any one had a wife faithful in the Lord, and found her in adultery, does the man sin if he lives with her? And he said to me, As long as he is ignorant, the man is without crime, if lives with her. But if the man had known that his wife had offended, and the woman had not repented, and if she re mains in her [sexual sin], and the man lives with her, he will be guilty of her sin and partaker of her adultery. And I said to him, What then if the woman shall persist in her vice? And he said, Let the man put her away, and stay by himself (i.e., remain un married). But if he put away his wife and take another, he too commits adultery himself. And I said to him, What if a woman, when put away, shall repent and wish to return to her husband, shall she not be taken back by her husband? And he said to me, Verily, if her husband do not take her back, he sins, and allows himself to commit a great sin; he ought to take back the sinning woman who has repented; but ought not to do this often. For there is one repentance for the servants of God. On account of repentance therefore the man ought not to marry again. This conduct is incumbent on both man and woman. Nor is there adultery only, said he, if one pollutes his own flesh, but he also who makes an idol commits adultery. Hence, if one persists in such things also and repents not, withdraw from him and live not with him. Otherwise thou too art partaker of his sin. For this was the command given to you to remain unmarried, whether man or woman, for in things of this sort there can be repentance." [This is from the first century.]


In this passage it is distinctly asserted that a man who puts away an adulterous wife, and marries another woman, commits adultery; and another reason is given for his remaining unmarried -namely that he may be in a condition to receive her back on her repentance. But such indulgence cannot extend beyond the first transgression. Here the foundation on which the first assertion is built is, no doubt, the words of our Lord, as explained by the Apostle in 1Corinthians 7-"Let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband"-and Hermas conceived that the reconciliation there referred to was to follow a separation on ac count of the adultery of the husband. He reasons fairly, as others have done then and since, that if this be a command for the wife, it is such also for the husband. Thus his injunctions are all scriptural, according to his understanding of Scripture. He . . . represents an opinion that must have been extensively held, and at length became the ruling one, and all this long before the doctrine of the sacramental character of marriage obtained currency.


In the next three centuries, many other witnesses appear on the same side.

Clement, of Alexandria, says (Strom. ii., 23, par. 144) that Scripture "regards marrying again to be adultery, if the other divorced partner is living"; and again, a little after (par. 145), "not only is he who puts away a woman the cause to her of this (adultery), but he who receives her also, as giving her opportunity to sin. For if he did not receive her, she would go back to her husband," where reconciliation is thought of as possible and desirable, whatever the woman had done to occasion the divorce.

Origen seems to be of the same mind, where he says that some rulers of the church have permitted a woman to marry, while her husband is alive, contrary to what is written in 1Corinthians 7:39, and Romans 7:3....


In the fourth century, near the end, Augustin did more than any other man to establish the same opinion. He advocates it in several places. His treatise, de conjugiis adulterinis, . . . was written especially to show that 1 Corinthians 7:11, "let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband," can be understood only of a wife who has withdrawn from her husband on account of his unfaithfulness....


In this work, Augustin comes on ground where Hermas a stood. Thus he says to his friend, "what seems hard to you, that one of the married pair should be reconciled to the other after adultery, will not be hard if faith is there. For why do we still regard as adulterers those whom we believe to have been washed by baptism or healed by repentance?"


Jerome, a contemporary of Augustin, is also decided in his I opinion on the same side, as may be seen in his commentary on Matthew 19:4. A letter of his to a friend, Oceanus, is deserving of mention, as giving us the case of a divorce and remarriage of a Christian lady of high condition. Fabiola had a worthless, licentious husband. She had a right, says Jerome, to repudiate him, although not to marry again....


From this time onward the rule became more and more established, that remarriage after separation was unlawful in the Christian Church, that only separations a mensa et toro were possible. The proofs of this are abundant, but they are needless, as the fact of a prevailing, and at length a universal opinion in the direction named is unquestioned...


While in the Western Church marriage became rigidly in; dissoluble, and civil law was shaped in conformity with ecclesiastical judgments, in the East the case was otherwise. Some of the Fathers looked with indulgence on the remarriage of the innocent party, and, on the other hand, the law of the Greek Church permitted separation only when the wife and not when the husband had been unfaithful. But the civil law did not conform itself to the law of the Church and of the New Testament, as understood by the Church, but in some respects to the laws of Rome under the emperors. For a time even the principle of divorce by consent of the parties, which Justinian had abandoned, was again introduced. Remarriage was allowed somewhat freely, and to this legislation, the practice in the Church was accommodated...


A word or two ought to be added in regard to the attitude which the [Western] Church took toward the parties who had been separated from one another on account of crime. The marriage being dissolved only by death, the intention of the Church was to excite repentance in the guilty partner, and after a probation to permit their reunion. The penance was a long one. In the time of Pope Stephen V (Cent. 9) the husband could decide whether he would receive back a guilty wife after she had undergone seven years of penance or be separated from her altogether. To become thus reconciled was taught to be the duty of a Christian, according to the words of Christ, "neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more." During their separation the pair were to have no intercourse as man and wife with one another; and for the violation of this rule a severe penance was inflicted on the innocent party. When the marriage was terminated by death and the adulterous partner was the survivor, Canon law was not so strict as Roman law. The adulteress, for instance, could now marry her paramour unless she had plotted against the life of her husband, or had promised marriage to the partner of her guilt during the life of her husband...


We may sum up what has been said of the separation of married partners during the early and medieval periods of the Christian Church in the following simple statements:


1. The prevailing and at length the unanimous opinion in the Church was that no crime of either of the consorts, being baptized persons or Christians, justified the other in marrying again during the life of the offending party.

2. When an infidel deserted his or her Christian consort, the latter was allowed to proceed to a second marriage.

3. The development of the theory of the sacrament, as far as divorce was concerned, accepted conclusions already drawn from Scripture.

4. As no crime entirely released the married pair from their relation to one another, and as forgiveness and reconciliation, being Christian duties could now be exercised, consorts separated on account of adultery could come together again. For a time rigid penance kept the offender from the innocent party, and penance also was inflicted on the innocent party who strove to renew intercourse before the Church was satisfied.

5. In many cases where marriage was prohibited by canonical law, a sentence of nullity left them free to unite themselves to other persons. [Transcribed from the book Divorce and Divorce Legislation, pp. 104-125, by Theodore D. Woolsey.]