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Monday, January 21, 2013

Divorce, Remarriage and the Church....

Divorced? What do you do NOW?
Remarriage?  No Remarriage?  Divorce?  No Divorce? 

So what does the Bible teach about these things?  

I mentioned on a recent blog that I had interacted with a pastor who believed that his interpretation regarding divorce and remarriage, was the only valid interpretation.   To listen to much modern Christian teaching, one could easily come away with the sense that there IS only one legitimate Christian position, and that the position is the most strict view against divorce and remarriage.  And yet, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Erasmus, John Knox, William Tyndale, and John Wesley to name a few, had a different interpretation!!!  How come nobody tells you that? 

I recently read an article that does a pretty good job of providing some of the historical  on the various views of divorce and remarriage, and have decided to use it as a source to help summarize the various Christian positions in the matter.  Most of the historical information comes from that article by David Snuth in the Trinity Journal, published by the Winnipeg Theological Seminary. The link below will take you to the entire article in Trinity Journal:

  I thought you might benefit from having a list of the points of view, as well as a bit of explanation with mention of historical Christian leaders who held various views.  So let me list for you here the four different views of what the scripture teaches, thus giving you an opportunity to consider what your position might be.  Primarily, though, I hope it can help us not to demonize Christians who hold other interpretations, knowing that they are not alone in their views.

The first position is that divorce is not an option God ever allowsit is always wrong.  Period.  Therefore, any time it is done, it is a sin before God.  In this position, the idea is that marriage is a sacrament and mystical union which human actions cannot break and should not flout.  Some of these people believe that even if there is a civil divorce, it can never break the spiritual union, the sacrament of marriage.  Obviously, this is a Roman Catholic position from Thomas Aquinas forward, hence the need to create the process called “annulment” so as to preserve the theology while accommodating those who end up divorced and remarried anyway.  This strong view was codified by the Roman Church at the Council of Trent in 1563, although in the early church there was some variation of opinion.  This is also a position that some of the very conservative theologians today believe, although they don’t use the word “sacrament,” they would affirm an indissolvable, mystical component to the marriage.

The second is divorce is allowed, but only in certain cases, with no option for remarriage except to the original spouse.  This position holds that the New Testament teachings of adultery and, maybe, abandonment (from 1 Corinthians 7), were intended to be an exhaustive list of the grounds for divorce.  Their reading of Jesus’ teachings (Matthew 19 and Matthew 5) follow the interpretation that while he permitted divorce, he did not permit remarriage in those passages.  This being the case, these individuals also believe that the only acceptable remarriage is with one’s ex-spouse as long as the ex-spouse is alive.  Historically, this view is held by a number of the earliest church leaders, during the rise of Christianity in the first few centuries after Christ.

The third option is divorce is allowed in certain “scriptural” cases, in which the innocent party is permitted to remarry another person.  Notably, these “scriptural” causes would be adultery and abandonment again.  But the distinction is the freedom to remarry someone else.  This interprets Jesus’ statement about adultery as a legitimate cause for divorce as also giving  freedom of remarriage.  Usually, the preference would still be to remarry one’s original spouse, if that is possible in a Christian way, but it is not a restriction.  This would be close to William Tyndale’s view, Presbyterian founder John Knox and founder of Methodism, John Wesley. 

The 4th option is divorce is allowed for a variety of reasons, and remarriage is also allowed.  A core part of this view is that the scriptural responses of Paul and Jesus were to situational questions, rather than trying to establish a exhaustive list of legitimate grounds of divorce (which is how it is often taken by many today).  One of the strongest arguments in favor of this view is that if Jesus’ mention was as the only legitimate grounds for divorce, why would Paul add to the list?  Sir Thomas Moore, Origen, Martin Luther, Desiderius Erasmus (New Testament Greek Scholar of the Reformation period), Philip Melancthon, John Calvin (who allowed divorce for impotence, religious incompatibility, abandonment and adultery) and reform theologian Martin Bucer were all in this category, allowing in practice both divorce for various causes, and remarriage.  In some cases, these individuals had a theology that was more like the third position, but their practice was in this 4th category.  Interestingly enough, Luther, Calvin and Bucer spoke of marriage as a civil institution, rather than a church matter, rejecting the Catholic notion of the sacramental nature of marriage.  Also interesting is the fact that Luther and Calvin both recognized the hindrance of a Christian spouse’s spiritual life as legitimate grounds for divorce, and Luther’s practice even addressed significant anger and discord in the home, much like today’s “irreconcilable differences.” 

  SOOOOOO, if you feel like people are treating you as an outsider because you happen not to believe the same view as some other individuals, realize your view MAY fit with historical Christianity, whether they say so or not.  And, recognize that just because a particular view happens to be the most vocal does NOT make it necessarily the most scriptural.  I’d like to take time to go over the various methods involved in handling the scriptures, but have gone too long as it is.  Reading the article can give you some good tips in this area.  Or, you can go to a quality commentary like Word Biblical Commentary, International Critical Commentary or the Anchor Bible Commentary.  I know not everyone will care for this blog, but I do think there are truths that Mr. Snuth has made available that need to be known in the church today.

TL:dr  Recap of four Christian views of divorce/remarriage, including some historical advocates.

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