Christian marriage and divorce must be carefully hedged. The resultant confusion in the churches demonstrates this point. Paul the Apostle warned us that the Churches would have problems with "seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils" by "forbidding to marry". Churches have shown a marked tendency to forbid marriage where the Bible allows it. Christ repeatedly took Deuteronomy 24 as His example of upholding the principles of the Old Testament.
Christian Divorce a la St. Paul
Just how accurate and insightful does one have to be to get this kind of a message across? St. Paul wrote to Timothy in his epistle, I Timothy 4:3:
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.
Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.
Forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. – I Timothy 4:1 – 3
Throughout the history of the churches, this issue (Christian divorce as a function of Christian marriage) has been surprisingly powerful in its impact.
Objectively, various Councils of the churches throughout history have attempted or actually succeeded in getting some aspect of "marriage" illegitimized among Christian people. Even great church leaders such as Augustine, Tertullian (the fellow who first coined the term "Trinity"), and Athanasius held compromised views about the subject.
For example, at the great Council of Nicea (325 A.D.),
It certainly appears that during the deliberations of the Council of Nicea a proposal was made at the Council which would have forbidden clergymen from continuing in their married estate if they were desirous of retaining their ministerial positions. The proposal was defeated by the eloquent scholar and faithful minister Paphnutius. He argued such a law was contrary to Scripture and placed a terrible burden on the clergy involved as well as their wives, who also could be immeasurably harmed. (Marriage Plague, p. 315)
Eventually, all of Latin Christianity (the Roman Catholic Medieval churches) would be so involved as to deny marriage to its clergy. Greek Byzantine Christianity (represented by the Greek Orthodox Church) would allow marriage for its clergy, but never remarriage if the first wife died. This was asserted on the basis of St. Paul’s statement that a minister must be "the husband of one wife…" (a passage clearly intended to militate against polygamy, not remarriage.). (reference Marriage Plague, p. 315 ff.),
Again, the laws of the Lord in the Bible allowed remarriage after the death of a spouse. Those laws (Deut. 24:1 ff – this is the passage Christ repeatedly commented upon concerning the "Writ of Divorcement" in the Gospels – Matthew 5: 31 -32, Mark 10:4 ff, Luke 16:17 -18) also allowed the guilty spouse in a divorce to remarry.
Yet, the churches have repeatedly (many Christians today, likewise) called for "no remarriage" after divorce, death of a spouse, abandonment of a spouse, unfaithfulness of a spouse.
Christian Marriage, a Fundamental Right
Yet the Bible authorizes a fundamental right of all parties to marry or remarry with only three restrictions:
- Prohibitions to "Christian marriage" in any violation of the laws of consanguinity (you cannot ever marry your mother, father, sibling, uncle, aunt - direct, blood relationship). These hygienic laws have been one of the cornerstones of Western civilization for two millennia, yet few Christians know these laws concerning Christian marriage prohibitions even exist (Lev. 18).
- Prohibitions to "Christian marriage" in the violation of the laws of affinity.
- Prohibitions to "Christian marriage" in any marriage of a believing Christian with a person who is not a believer.
Even state licensure laws violate Biblical injunctions concerning Christian marriage and Christian divorce. That is a reason the same sex issue has such legal strength. The Bible does not allow the state to legitimize marriage. It does give the state the authority to deal with divorce according to the civil mandates given in Scripture.
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers… – Romans 13:1
For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid …– Romans 13:4
For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. – Romans 13:9
This latter verse agrees with Deuteronomy 24:1ff allowing even the adulteress to remarry. It is explicitly stated there.
That does not mean she got off without sanction. The Old Testament "put to death" individuals in such civil matters by disinheritance (Adam and Eve for example were cast out of the Garden as a direct consequence of Christ’s warning "In the day you eat thereof, you will surely die.").
Adam physically died over nine centuries later. But, he and his wife were "put to death" by being exiled (disinherited from Paradise) that very day.
This fact explains a number of issues:
- Christ did not endorse the stoning of the woman taken in adultery.
- Nor was He denying Moses in the case.
- There was no record of an adulterer being put to physical death in the Old Testament.
- The two harlots (harlots are adulteresses in the Bible) who stood in court before Solomon as known harlots were not put to death then or later.
- When God divorced Israel in the Old Testament (Jer. 3:8), Israel was exiled (sent into Captivity).
- Yet, God "remarried" Israel and brought His people back into His married relationship with Himself.
If we deny the right to Christian marriage (which includes remarriage), as specified in the Scriptures, we are culpable of violating St. Paul’s prophetic injunction in I Timothy 4: 1 – 3. We may be unwittingly participating in a "doctrine of devils".
Hum… doctrine of devils… rampant divorce confusion among Christians today. Could be we’re on to something here.
Chrys Ostom has both undergraduate and graduate degrees in schools in business (with economics), ministry (and counseling), theology and history. He has extensive counseling experience concerning problems and solutions surrounding divorce, marriage, and remarriage in the history and customs of the churches. He has accomplished work in both home mission and foreign mission training and church growth.
By Chrys Ostom