By Steve Wolfgang
When asked if I would write a short article on the issue of divorce and remarriage throughout church history, I immediately thought about the history professor who liked to put this essay question at the end of his tests: “Write the history of the world in ten pages or less” (I think it was his weird idea of a joke). I have been asked to limit myself to the so-called “early church fathers” and some of the “Restoration leaders,” and I am happy to comply. In addition to a brief survey of the material and some of the issues, I have provided notes for further reference if anyone is so inclined. These references are safely buried in the endnotes, where they will not harm anyone.
Fortunately for all of us, there has been some fairly recent work published on the views of the “church fathers” regarding these issues. A recent book by affiliates of Dallas Theological Seminary (a dispensational-fundamentalist school in Texas) begins with a chapter on “The Early Church View,” and includes some edited quotations from the Shepherd of Hermas, Justin, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Tertullian.(1) Therefore, I will not take the space (which would well exceed our available space) to quote from these men. Everett Ferguson has observed that “All who strive to be New Testament Christians in the present age are in a way second-century Christians. Not that they have, consciously or unconsciously, followed the second-century church or taken it as an authority. But, at best, we stand in relation to first-century Christians as did second-century Christians.”(2) As another recent author noted, “Christians of all times have the same homework to do.”(3) If someone should desire to do his or her “homework” and read for themselves what these authors said, the relevant texts are recorded in the notes.(4)
William F. Luck’s recent book, Divorce and Remarriage, contains an appendix dealing with the “early church view” in it; he states succinctly the attitude which careful Bible students should take regarding the writers of the immediate post-New Testament centuries: “the inspired text determines the limits of position; extrabiblical interpretations serve only as suggestions. Although the positions of the early church are generally given deference, being closer to the actual teaching themselves, they must neither be given undue weight nor be accepted uncritically.”(5) Indeed, although it may be interesting and even instructive to consider what other men have written about the Bible (Spurgeon once commented that it seemed strange that many who think so much of what the Bible reveals to them think so little of what it has revealed to others), each person ultimately must determine for himself what the Bible teaches regardless of what others may believe. Thus, in another sense, what the ante-Nicene writers, or the Campbells, or anyone else has written is irrelevant.
These recent books on the opinions of the ante-Nicene writers are simply the latest round in an on-going debate within Roman Catholicism and Protestant evangelicalism and Fundamentalism over the last several decades. In some ways, they reflect some of the same developments and the similar effects of modern social circumstances which have been evident among churches of Christ in the same period. The “liberation” of Catholic theology following Vatican II in the 1960’s produced, among other things, a book by Victor Pospishil which asserted that “a distinct majority of the Fathers and the ancient ecclesiastical authorities permitted the remarriage of husbands of adulterous wives, while generally denying it to all wives, even the innocent.”(6) Like some today, Pospishil argued that, in his opinion, the writings of the ante-Nicene authors, and even the biblical texts on divorce and remarriage, are unclear. His argument then was that “the final judgment on this matter belongs to the Catholic Church with her unlimited power of the keys: the authority to grant total divorce and permit the remarriage of divorced Christians.”(7) Noted Catholic writer Joseph Fitzmyer reviewed the book, saying, “Whatever else is to be said about the merits or demerits of this book, the treatment of the Biblical passages is unspeakably bad.”(8) Pospishil’s book may be seen as a typical example of someone who has allowed either his doctrinal presuppositions or the changing moral standards of society (or both), rather than the Bible, to dictate his conclusions.
Not long afterward, an opposite conclusion was reached by “the most comprehensive study ever written on this subject.”(9) That conclusion was “that in the first five centuries [after Christ] all Greek writers and all Latin writers except one agree that marriage following divorce for any reason is adulterous.”(10) The author of that work, Henri Crouzel, is a French Jesuit; but the same position has recently been championed by two authors associated with British and American Fundamentalism, who summarize with endorsement Crouzel’s view that almost uniformly, in the writings of the first five centuries of church history (Ambrosiaster excepted), “the marriage bond was seen to unite both parties until the death of one of them. When a marriage partner was guilty of unchastity, usually understood to mean adultery, the other was expected to separate but did not have the right to remarry.”(11)
What are modern Christians to make of such evidence? Of course, it is uninspired, and thus some may wish simply to dismiss it. It may well represent an extreme view of the biblical teaching, produced largely by the same cultural and doctrinal pre-suppositions which gave rise to other Roman Catholic positions, including celibacy and various features of monasticism. At the very least, it demonstrates that views allowing almost unlimited justification for serial marriages and divorces is totally unknown during the first five centuries after Christ.(12)
Heth and Wenham’s almost opposite extreme view is challenged (I think successfully) by another Fundamentalist author connected with Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. In a long appendix “On the Divorce Teachings of the Early Church,” William F. Luck argues “none of the writings of the early Church Fathers, in spite of their strong belief in their own correctness, is directly associated with the teaching of either Jesus or one of his apostles. By this, I mean that none of the principle sources cited by such writers as Heth and Wenham personally knew either Jesus or one of the disciples.”(13) Furthermore, Luck argues that “a number of writers have mis- or over-read the teachings of certain early Church Fathers and have drawn certain unwarranted conclusions from such teachings.”(14) Arguing that “the ascetic tendencies of most of the conservative Fathers produced biased exegesis of the Gospel texts” and that “their ascetic interests moved them to strict positions on the crucial matter of questionable sexual relations,” Luck concludes, “Their interpretations should therefore be viewed with a critical eye.”(15) Finally, Luck maintains, “we do not conclude that the early traditions of the Church are ‘nearly unanimous’ against all remarriage and divorce.”(16) Of course, not only the early writers but contemporary authors such as Luck, Heth, Wenham, and others must be read with care, discretion, and an eye to what the biblical texts actually say.
Divorce and Remarriage in the “Restoration Movement”
The other major area of church history I was asked to explore for this article is how the so-called “Restorationists” of the past two centuries have viewed the biblical teachings on divorce and remarriage. Probably the place to begin is with Alexander Campbell’s Millennial Harbinger, which broached the subject a few times during its 40-year run. The first such reference is in the Harbinger for February, 1834. Responding to a question regarding Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7, Campbell said, “It seems to me that in all cases of voluntary desertion on the side of the unbelieving party, the marriage covenant is made void, and the believing party is to the deserter as though they never had been married . . . When both parties are in the kingdom, then the husband who puts away his wife, or the wife who leaves her husband, except for whoredom, and who marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries either of the parties, commits adultery, and is to be discarded from the Christian community.” Campbell added: “I am happy to have the concurrence of brother Walter Scott, who is at this time here on a visit.”(17) In the last volume of the Harbinger, four years after Campbell’s death, an article appeared which stated that “there is nothing in the New Testament law of marriage that is not as applicable, practical, and necessary outside the church as within it.”(18)
Ed Harrell’s history of the antebellum Restoration Movement reports “even during the 1830’s that while the brothel who married an ‘unbeliever’ was ‘to be pited,’ he was not to be ‘put out.’ Alexander Campbell wrote: ‘Certainly no Christian can . . . exclude a person simply for marrying any person not forbidden by the laws of the land.'”(19) However, Harrell continues, most nineteenth century church members “were not so liberal on the question of divorce The generally accepted standard was: ‘There is no release then to husband or wife for the marriage contract unless the other party has been guilty of fornication.’ A few church leaders were liberal enough to concede that ‘desertion,’ practice not uncommon on the frontier, was a just cause for divorce and remarriage, but these were the exceptions.(20) Harrell concludes that “the churches were probably mol diligent in enforcing their code of morality in this area the in any other.”(21)
Despite the fact that the churches of Christ during the late nineteenth century were separating from the Disciples of Christ over a variety of issues and even more basic problems of the authority of the Bible, according to one study of divorce issues in that period, the preachers one hundred years ago “spoke almost with one voice. Only the most avant-garde Disciples in the last years of the century differed from the church’s majority.”(22) The view of “Restoration preachers” in this era can be summarized in this way: “Theologically, divorce was wrong except for the cause of adultery. Socially, the dissolving of the marital bond was detrimental to the fabric of public morals.” The preachers “consistently argued that only sexual intercourse outside of the marriage constituted grounds for divorce. . . . Must a congregation expel members whose marriages ended for causes other than adultery? Church editors unanimously agreed in the affirmative. Can the ‘innocent party’ in a divorce for adultery remarry? Most Disciple leaders replied ‘yes.’ If a person not yet a Christian ‘divorces for other than adultery, remarries, and is then converted, can he enter the fellowship of the congregation? Except for two church spokesmen, the answer demanded that the current, and, in their opinion, unscriptural marriage be dissolved.'”(23)
In the early twentieth century, rising divorce rates were reflected in the increasing number of articles on divorce and remarriage by members of churches of Christ.(24) The Gospel Advocate Index, for instance, lists 31 articles on divorce for the first quarter of the twentieth century; but the next decade, from 1925 to 1935, exceeds that number considerably.(25)Obviously, space limitations forbid an examination of anything but a fraction of these articles, but I propose to survey a representative sample.
Sharing with their religious neighbors a concern over the rising tide of divorces, the Advocate reprinted an article from the Methodist Advocate which declared, “There is but one reason for marriage after divorce, and that is adultery,” and warned ominously, “they who trifle with it are in danger of the flames of hell.”(26) Although James A. Allen, editor of the Advocate in the early 1930s, took the most conservative position (“We have never been able to feel safe in saying that the innocent party may remarry again”(27)), most agree with P.W. Stonestreet’s series of articles later that year, which, while acknowledging that some brethren believed that “the privilege [of divorce and remarriage] does not apply to anyone under any conditions,” argued “that the Bible teaches the privilege of divorce and remarriage under certain conditions is quite generally conceded.”(28) Stonestreet’s articles appeared with the endorsement of F.W. Smith, longtime Advocate staff member and preacher at Franklin, TN, and cited previous articles by E.A. Elam, J.W. Kurfees, and T.B. Larimore, among others, upholding the right of the “innocent party” to remarry.(29) Stonestreet concluded his series of articles, “only two things can break the marriage bond – death and fornication – and in both cases remarriage is allowable; but in the case of separation for other causes, which is sometimes permissible, remarriage is not allowed.”(30)
In 1933, H. Leo Boles, who served during his life both as editor of the Advocate and president of David Lipscomb College, argued that “All Bible students know that God recognizes but one cause for absolute divorce [divorce recognized by God as well as the state]. This is adultery, or fornication. . . . The words of Jesus, as recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, condemn remarriage of a divorced one, and condemn it in terms which admit of no misunderstanding. The Savior mentions one, and only one, cause for putting away one party to the marriage union.” Discussing 1 Corinthians 7, Boles added, “It seems that for some there was given the permission to separate temporarily for other causes than the sin of fornication; but those who were separated were to ‘remain unmarried, or else be reconciled’ to each other. These principles should be taught, and all of God’s people should abide by their teaching.”(31)
R.L. Whiteside’s “Queries and Answers” column received numerous inquires regarding divorce and remarriage. Among Whiteside’s responses were the following: a “brother who married a woman that had divorced her husband for his fornication committed no sin in so doing . . . and if she wants to obey the gospel, she should be given a warm welcome.” Regarding a “brother whose wife will not live with him for no apparent reason other than that she does not want to. . . . If he is not to blame in the matter, she has done and is doing him a great wrong. . . . Can he marry again? He can read Matt. 19:9 as well as I can. He cannot afford to lose his soul because someone does him a great wrong.” Regarding one guilty of adultery who seeks remarriage, Whiteside commented, “If a guilty party remarries, he adds to his guilt. He does not merely commit adultery; he lives in it.”(32)
Although one would be hard pressed to find any preacher willing to argue the right to remarry of one guilty of adultery (to say nothing of the sanctioning of virtually any second marriage which is becoming all too common today), a series of questions put to Whiteside in 1936 indicated that some may have been teaching privately what they would not argue in print or from the pulpit. When asked, “1. Is there a definite stand we can take on the question of divorce and remarriage? 2. Is there a general agreement in the brotherhood on the question? . . . 6. Do our brethren ever withdraw fellowship from divorced and remarried people? 7. Where a number of such couples are in a congregation, and these couples are friends and relatives of almost the entire congregation, what can the preacher or elders do in such a case? Should anything be done? If so, what?”(33) Whiteside responded: “With the possible exception of one of two matters, this page had devoted more space to the discussion of this marriage-and-divorce question than to any other . . . I have already taken a stand on what Jesus and Paul say (Matt. 19:9; 1 Cor. 7:12-15). That stand seems to me to be definite enough for all practical purposes. All I can do about the matter is to invite others to take the same stand, which I here and now do. 2. If the querist is correct in what he says about ‘our preachers,’ there does not seem to be a 4general agreement in the brotherhood on the question.’ But the brotherhood certainly ought to agree with what Jesus and Paul say, and that is the only agreement that is worth mentioning. If the ‘brotherhood’ should agree among themselves and leave Jesus and Paul out of that agreement, so much the worse for the ‘brotherhood.’ . . . 6. I think I have heard of such. There is not much withdrawing done these days, except such withdrawing as is done in factional fights. Discipline is neglected. If other sins are let pass without notice, why wonder at the fact that the marriage of divorcees is also let pass without notice? 7. In such cases it does not seem that much can be done. Churches need to develop a conscience along the line of discipline. . . . It is a sad fact that church members will sometimes side with friends and kindred who are in the wrong. If a preacher will do his duty where so much is wrong, he will preach so that things will improve, or the church will get rid of him.”(34)
In 1939, L.R. Wilson (first president of Florida Christian College and also president of Oklahoma Christian College), argued in the Firm Foundation that “It is possible for a divorced person who as contracted another marriage contrary to the law of Christ – to be saved without breaking the tie thus formed.”(35) This position was reviewed at length by Roy H. Lanier [Sr.], who contrasted the two views in this way: “He believes that somewhere along the line, perhaps at repentance, the union ceases to be adulterous, while I believe the union continues to be adulterous.”(36) A decade later, in the Gospel Advocate, brother Lanier attacked both “the extreme of disallowing divorce even for fornication, and . . . the other extreme of allowing divorce for other reasons.”(37)
Perhaps the most notorious view on divorce and remarriage among brethren in the twentieth century was that of E.C. Fuqua, that non-Christians are under the authority of civil law only, and not amenable to the law of Christ. This theory, “which was beginning to make inroads on the thinking of brethren in many places” by 1954, was challenged by Thomas B. Warren and discussed in the form of a written debate in Fuqua’s paper, the Vindicator, from August to December, 1954.(38)
As noted before, none of this “historical evidence” proves anything scripturally. At best, it informs a discussion of the subject by pointing out potential pitfalls, and perhaps by revealing which concepts are new and perhaps influenced by the spirit of the age, and those which have been advanced by mature, respectable Bible students who do not live in our time. My own “footnote” would be to say that it seems clear to me that some present-day views, advocated by some increasingly vocal brethren who seem bent on justifying almost every kind second (or later) marriage regardless of cause, would have been greeted with abhorrence by the vast majority of the brethren quoted here. It cannot even be said for these views that they have a respectable pedigree, or that brethren of the past would have accepted them. Perhaps the best which can be said of them is that they reflect an increasingly permissive society not inclined to accept the stipulations of the gospel on this subject regardless of how much the restrictions may be expanded.
4. The relevant texts include: Shepherd of Hermas (c. 150), 4.1.4- 10; Justin Martyr, First Apology 13-15 (c. 150) and Second Apology 2.1-7; Athenagorus (c. 177), Supplication for the Christians 36; Theophilus of Antioch (c. 180), To Autolycus 3.13; Irenaeus, Against Heresies (c. 185) 3.3.4 and 4.15.2; Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215), Stromata 22.214.171.124ff., 3.1.4, 3.6.50, and 3.7.57; Origen (c. 185-254), Commentary on Matthew 14.6, 14.23-24; Tertullian (c. 155-220), Ad Uxorem (to his wife) 2.1-2; Against Marcion 4.34 and 5.7; De Monagamia (on Monagamy) 5, 7, 9, and 11. These texts are generally available in reference works such as The Ante-Nicene Fathers (a nineteenth-century set kept in print by Eerdmans), or Ancient Christian Writers. The Works of the Fathers in Translation (a more recent multi-volume set produced by the Catholic publishers, Newman Press). These sets are generally available in college and university libraries.
9. Heth and Wenham, p. 22. The title of Henri Crouzel’s book, published in French, is Leglise primitive face au divorce du premier au cinquieme siecle (Paris: Beauchesne, 197 1). Crouzel summarizes his views in English in “Remarriage After Divorce in the Primitive Church: A Propos of a Recent Book,” Irish Theological Quarterly 38:1 (January 1971), pp. 21-41. Informative reviews of Crouzel’s work appear in Theological Studies 33:2 (June 1972), pp. 333-338; and The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 24:1 (January 1873), pp. 60-62.
11. Ibid. Heth teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary, and Wenham at the College of St. Paul and St. Mary in Cheltenham, England. Several articles by these two authors advance various portions of their argument. See Heth, “Another Look at the Erasmian View of Divorce and Remarriage,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 25:3 (September 1982), pp. 263-272, and “The Meaning of Divorce in Matthew 19:3-9,” Churchman 98:2 (1984), pp. 136152; and Wenham, “Gospel Definitions of Adultery and Women’s Rights,” Expository Times 95:11 (August 1984), pp. 330-332, and Wenham, “Matthew and Divorce: An Old Crux Revisited,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 22 (October 1984), pp. 95-107.
12. For a fuller discussion of some of these concepts, see Pat Edwin Harrell, Divorce and Remarriage in the Early Church (Austin, TX: R.B. Sweet Publishing Company, 1967), chapter 5. Guy Duty, Divorce and Remarriage (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1967, 1983), contains a chapter on “The Church Fathers’ Views on Divorce and Remarriage” which concludes “that those are in error who claim that for the first rive centuries of the Christian Church none of the father allowed remarriage after divorce for adultery” (p. 121). This chapter, however, is based on flimsy secondary evidence.
17. A. Campbell, “Divorces,” Millennial Harbinger 5:2 (February, 1934), pp. 70-73. A variety of situations were raised in the Harbinger for comment by various preachers. In 1843, on anonymous brother, “Adelphos,” posed and answered this question: “There is one cause, and only one, for which we may divorce a wife and marry another. But does this law prohibit a separation, if we continue unmarried, where this cause does not exist? I think not . . . several preachers of the gospel . . . for several years lived apart from their wives, because they could not happily live with them . . . a man must both leave or dismiss his wife and marry another, in order to incur the charge preferred by our Lord, of adultery” (“Divorce,” Millennial Harbinger, New Series 7:2 [February 1843], pp. 72-73).
A decade later, Robert Milligan, writing from Indiana University, posed a number of questions and hypothetical examples regarding marriage and divorce. It is interesting to note that almost a century and a half ago, in an age we now look back upon as more “moral” than the present, preachers were complaining that theirs was an age “when the marriage covenant is so lightly esteemed by orators, legislators, jurists and philosophers.” Milligan concluded, “But it is unnecessary to multiply arguments or illustrations. . . . Christ and Paul . . . concur in saying, that the marriage contract can be dissolved, during the life of both parties, by only one offence; and that the man or the woman, who, being once joined in this holy alliance, shall dissolve it by marrying again, during the life of the other party, unless said party shall have been guilty of the crime specified [fornication] – is guilty of the sin of adultery” (R. Milligan, “The Law of Divorce,” MH, 4th Series, 3:7 [July 1853], pp. 408-413).
Several months later, A. Campbell himself weighed in with these comments: “The Lord, in his own personal ministry, inhibited divorces, except in one case, and that was a palpable violation or renunciation of the nuptial covenant [Campbell had already spent several paragraphs discussing the Greek words moicheia (adultery) and porneia (fornication) – SWI … But Paul, by his office and the inspiration of the spirit of wisdom, felt himself justified in adding to the law enacted by the Lord Jesus Christ another statute or provision, concerning an infidel man who should . . . separate from a Christian wife; and also concerning an unbelieving wife, who should . . . abandon a believing husband. In such cases, a brother or sister in Christ is not under bondage to live with them . . . . But may the believing party marry again? is the more pinching question. Not, indeed, after the unbelieving party is dead, but while he or she yet lives? Does not the declaration, that a brother or sister is not bound . . . indicate this? This is a litigated question . . . ” Campbell proceeds to quote a variety of commentators (in several cases noting with appropriate sarcasm, “This is explaining the passage by quoting it” or “These certainly are noncommittal men – superlatively prudent!”) and concludes, in response to a specific case submitted by a reader: “When a woman finally deserts a Christian husband, and utterly refuses to live with him, we should . . . not consider him obligated to live henceforth without a wife. . . . ” (A.C., “Separation and Divorce,” Millennial Harbinger, 4th series, 3:10 [September, 1853], pp. 529-533).
18. “A Tragedy and Its Lesson,” Millennial Harbinger 41:1 (January 1870). When challenged on this statement, C.L. Loos responded in defense of this position with a long series of arguments supporting the view that those outside the church are amenable to God’s marriage requirements. He asked, and answered, this question, “does not all this [divine instructions regarding marriage and divorce] apply . . . [to) marriage out of the church as within it? We think this ought to be beyond all question. ” In dealing with specific questions posed to him on the meaning of “not under bondage” in 1 Corinthians 7, Loos would say only that “Interpreters are not settled as to whether this means that the abandoned may remarry or not.” But he was adamant in warning those who taught that divine law on marriage and divorce “holds good only when husband and wife are both Christians” that “this suggests some grave questions” (C.L.L., “On Divorce. – Inquiries,” MH41:5 [May 1870], pp. 267-273).
19. David Edwin Harrell, Jr., Quest for a Christian America: Disciples of Christ Social Thought to 1866 (Nashville: Disciples of Christ Historical Society, 1966), p. 197. Harrell quotes James S. Lamar on the policy of a congregation in Pittsburgh: “If a man married a woman who was not a member of the church . . . he was called to account for marrying contrary to the word of the Lord, and he must say – perhaps in the presence of his wife that he was sorry for it; and moreover – though this probably gave the poor woman some comfort – he must promise that he would not do so any more!” (pp. 196-197)
22. Fred Arthur Bailey, “The Status of Women in the Disciples of Christ Movement, 1865-1900” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Tennessee, 1979), pp. 157-163. Bailey, now professor of history at Abilene Christian University, formerly taught at Freed-Hardeman College.
S.H. Hendrix, “Marriage and Divorce,” American Christian Review, XX (May 25, 1882), 173; “Queries,” Apostolic Times, V (May 1, 1873), 5; J. A. M., “Divorce and Marriage,” ibid. (July 17, 1873), 1; “Queries and Answers,” Christian Oracle, VI (April 18, 1899), 249; John C. Miller, “Marriage and Divorce,” Christian Record, ii.s., II (July 1868), 208-13; Elisha G. Sewell, “Queries,” Gospel Advocate, XX (January 24, 1877), 57; Elisha G. Sewell, “Queries,” ibid., XXVII (July 15, 1885), 438; “Queries,” ibid., XXIX (October 12, 1887), 648; For dissenting views see J. M. Mathes, “Querist’s Department,” Christian Record, ii.s., I (July, 1867), 208; Jacob Wright, “Divorce,” ibid., Il (June, 1868),16165. John W. McGarvey, “Legalized Adultery,” Apostolic Times, IX (January 11, 1877), 17. F. G. Allen, “Marriage and Divorce,” ibid. (September 21, 1877), 569.
John F. Rowe, “Divorce and Adultery,” American Christian Review, XXVII (April 17, 1884), 124; J. H. Ballinger, “Law of Divorce,” ibid. (October 16, 1884), 333; John W. McGarvey, “Queries,”AT, V (March 26,1874),5; Daleph, “Divorce,” ibid., VII (September 16, 1875), 414; “Talks with Querists,” Christian Oracle, VII (September 18, 1890), 594; W. G. Springer, “Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage,” ibid. (December 11, 1890), 788; B. K. Smith, “Divorce,” Christian Pioneer, X (September 29, 1870), n.p.; Isaac Errett, “Querists’ Drawer,” Christian Standard, 11 (October 19, 1867), 330; W. D. Ingram, “Marriage,” Firm Foundation, VI (August 28, 1890), 5; David Lipscomb, “Marriage and Adultery,” GA, XV (May 8, 1873), 445-46; David Lipscomb, “Queries,” ibid., XXVII (November 4, 1885), 710; “Queries,” ibid., XXIX (June 22, 1887), 396; Elisha G. Sewell, “Marriage and Divorce,” ibid., XXXV (August 31, 1893), 547; “Question Drawer,” OPG, III (January, 1881), 52-53.
W. F. Madden, “Marriage-Divorce,” American Christian Review, XIII (November 15, 1870), 362; S. “Divorce-Hard Cases, ” ibid., XVI (July 22, 1873), 226; F. M. Collins, “Divorce, ” ibid., XXIII (January 6, 1880), 1; A. Pickerill, “The Law of Divorce,” ibid. (February 10, 1880), 41; J. Perry Elliott, “The Law of Divorce,” ibid. (February 17, 1880), 49; “Queries and Answers,” Christian Oracle, VI (January 10, 1889), 25; J. M. Mathes, “Querist’s Department,” Christian Record, ii.s., 11 (July 1883), 203; Elisha O. Sewell, “Queries,” GA, XXII (September 23, 1880), 616; “Queries,” ibid., XXIX (August 10, 1887), 499; David Lipscomb, “Queries,” ibid., XXXII (December 3, 1890), 770. For dissenting views see F. S. Coal, “Divorce,” American Christian Review, XXIII (February 10, 1880), 41; R. B. Trimble, “Marriage and Divorce,” ibid., XXVII (June 12, 1884), 185; B. S., “The Sanctity of Marriage,” GA, XXIII (April 12, 1881), 297. In 1894, the theologically liberal Christian Oracle added the vague cause of “mitigating . . . circumstances” to adultery as grounds for divorce. The paper’s editors believed that “the eternal principles of justice and mercy must not be overlooked” under such conditions. “Talks with Querists, ” Christian Oracle, XI (May 3 1, 1894), 338.
24. In 1910, for every 100 marriages there were 8.8 divorces; 13.4 in 1920 and 17.5 in 1930 (Ernest R. Mowrer, Family Disorganization: An Introduction to Sociological Analysis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1927], pp. 3-28; quoted in William F. Banowsky, Mirror of a Movement. Churches of Christ as Seen Through the Abilene Christian College Lectureship [Dallas: Christian Publishing Company, 1965], pp. 416-424. Banowsky quotes A.O. Colley’s 1920 lecture, which stated: “The New Testament does not recognize but one real cause for divorce, and that is for a married man or married woman to act unfaithful to the marriage vows . . . when committed [fornication) gives the innocent the right to be separated from the guilty. . . . All preachers and elders should teach that everyone that puts away his or her companion and marries another while the first is still living is violating the law of God” (pp. 229-230).
For a discussion on divorce in this period from a historical perspective, see William L. O’Neill, Divorce in the Progressive Era (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1967); and Elaine Tyler May, Great Expectations.- Marriage and Divorce in Post- Victorian America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).
30. Stonestreet, “God’s Law on Divorce and Remarriage (Chapter 111),” GA 72:42 (October 16, 1930), p. 991. In an earlier article, Stonestreet had argued, “To make Matthew’s fuller record, where the exception is recorded, yield to the limited statements of Mark and Luke, is to reject not only Matthew’s record giving the exception, but all the teaching; for the logical limits of such a course would be to reject the teaching recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke, because John does not record the teaching. So much for the logic of the advocates of a human theory. . . . It is indeed strange that preachers who are accustomed to preaching baptism as a condition of salvation, opposing the doctrine of faith only, would even suggest making a fuller statement yield to a limited one” (“God’s Law on Divorce and Remarriage [Chapter ll),” GA 72:41 [October 9, 19301, p. 967). Stonestreet concluded that article, “Since fornication is the cause for severing the marriage union, then why may not the guilty party remarry also? The guilty party is already an adulterer or adulteress, and remarriage would only be a further repetition of such a life, and hence nothing is said on that point in the inspired passage” (Ibid., p. 981).
Responding to a reader’s question regarding the right of the guilty party to remarry, Stonestreet commented, “Our Lord’s statement, recorded in Matthew 19:9, affirms the permission of remarriage only of the innocent party. So, unless that permission is divinely given the guilty at some other place in some way, I have no right to teach that.” However, Stonestreet added: “Genuine repentance on the part of the adulterer or adulteress introduces a different character in the same person, whose Scriptural remarriage privilege I neither affirm nor deny” (P.W. Stonestreet, “The Side Issue,” GA 72-50 [December 11, 1930], p. 1191).
In a series of articles that same year, G.C. Brewer advanced a similar argument when he commented on Matthew 19:9, “If language means anything, this teaches that if he puts away his wife for the cause of fornication he does not commit adultery if he marries another. This is the one exception to the rule. That sin will justify a divorce, or permit a divorce.” Furthermore, in response to the argument that Matthew 19:9 should be relegated to Old Testament status and that death, as per Romans 7 is the only cause for remarriage for New Testament Christians, Brewer commented, “Those who offer this explanation have not examined the Scriptures on this point very carefully” (G.C. Brewer, “Christ and Paul on Divorce,” GA 75:29 [July 20, 1933], p. 674). This article was a part of a longer series of articles by Brewer appearing in volume 75 of the Advocate In 1928, Brewer had met Judge Lindsey of Denver in debate on the subject of “companionate marriage.”
38. The discussion was later published in book form as The Warren-Fuqua Debate (Ft. Worth: J.E. Snelson Printing Co., 1954); quotation is from p. 7. See also Maurice W. Lusk, III, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage In the Teachings of Jew and Paul (Atlanta: Guild of Scribes, 1982), especially chapter 9: “The Warren-Fuqua Debate: A Critique.”
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 1, pp. 27, 29-31
January 4, 1990