Whenever you bring up the topic of marriage permanence it is common for most people to believe that divorce and remarriage was a accepted in the early church as it was today. Is this true? The fact is if one does a quick internet search on what the early church taught about marriage, divorce, and remarriage, they would come away understanding that though divorce was an option for certain cases, remarriage was always adultery. You would come away with the understanding that the early church believed strongly for the permanence of marriage.
I believe it is quite clear that modern books on divorce and remarriage do not include what the early church had to say on this topic. I believe this has to do with exposing the idea that what these men and women teach would contradict the teachings of the early church. It amazes me that many modern Pastors, scholars and theologians will quote key quotes on the Gospel by these early church fathers, but when it comes to quoting what they believed on the marriage, there is silence.
It is very important to note that two of the prominent books concerning marriage permanence deal with what the early church had to say on marriage, divorce and remarriage. Casey Whitaker (Have you not Read?) and DanJennings (Except For Fornication) both present unambiguous quotes from early church writers. It is important to note that both of these books are available pdf format, but I will just present a few quotes from Casey and Dan on what these writings mean for what we believe about divorce and remarriage today.
The men who recognized and gave formal recognition of what we read in our Bible had differences in opinions on many things doctrinally but were unanimous on the emotionally charged issue of remarriage following a divorce. They were closer to the teaching than we are some 1700 years later. If I want to know what the early leaders of our country meant in the Constitution and their interpretations of this document, I want to know what George Washington says and not what the politicians of today say. –Casey Whitaker (Have you not Read?-page 33)
Dan Jennings corresponds his findings with what the early church understood about the two separate words of fornication and adultery. The idea behind his book is that the exception clause of Matthew 19:9 was specific to Jewish betrothal marriage, and that remarriages after a divorce are adulterous in nature. Dan makes it clear that many early church writers throughout the years have rejected Adultery View , especially as it pertains to "remarriage".
I think it is interesting, and worth noting, that some of these people did believe that porneia in Matthew’s exception clause was referring to adultery, yet they still did not understand the passage to allow remarriage after a divorce. The student of God’s Word who finds himself having doubts about the validity of the Adultery View can be assured that he is surrounded by millions of Christians who have shared his doubts. –Dan Jennings (Except For Fornication- page 81)
As noted previously, these books provide a great deal of quotes concerning what these men of history had to say on divorce and remarriage. I recommend that you read these quotes for yourself and take time to compare what these quotes to what scripture has to say about marriage, divorce and remarriage. Ultimately we must decide for ourselves how we view marriage in light of what God’s word has to say about marriage. The writers of present and past will all have to stand before the Lord and give an account if what they have written is contrary to the very nature of God.
What is clear in both Casey and Dan’s work is the importance of what they believe about marriage as it pertains to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. They have considered the cost that what they present in written form concerning the definition of marriage will not be accepted by many today. Yet, history is on their side. History shows us that the early church, and many throughout church history have a greater understanding of the importance of marriage, and the consequences of divorce and remarriage. Where do you stand?
If all the writers of past and present do not compare what they teach on marriage without considering the depths of God’s love through the Gospel, then what they offer is not worthy of acceptance. If marriage is anything other than what Paul believed to be a great mystery of Christ’s love for the church, then it begs the question…Why have marriage at all?
Eph 5:31-32 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
There is no question that there is a rich history for the understanding of marriage permanence and the names of men like Hermes, Justin Martyr, Clement and Jerome all understood the word of the Lord, “What therefore God hat joined together, let not man put asunder." What these men have to say about divorce and remarriage was based on what they believed about marriage and the Gospel. Another man in history understood this a good as any... Dietrich Bonhoeffer is well known for his stance resistance to Nazism, but I believe his greatest asset to the kingdom of God was what he wrote on marriage.
“Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God's holy ordinance, through which He wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to His glory, and calls into His kingdom. In your love, you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal - it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison.
In Christ’s love,