Churches Of Christ/MDR


Hello Ernie,

I have been researching the very controversial subject of Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage (MDR) for some time. I've read many of the answers given by the experts on this Church of Christ website related to MDR. It appears you have the most traditional or conservative view of MDR compared to the other experts. My opinion on MDR would probably most closely fit your beliefs, although my beliefs on the subject may be even more restrictive than yours.

First of all, I question the interpretation and application of the Matthew 19:9 exception clause. There are many interpretations by Biblical scholars on, first of all, what "except for fornication" means in the context of Matthew 19:9, and more importantly, how to apply it. The sources I've read indicate that for at least the first 500 years after Christ the early church did not allow remarriage after a divorce even if adultery was involved. The majority of the early church fathers (ECF) believed a husband could divorce an adulterous wife, but could not remarry another woman as long as his wife was living, in hopes she would repent of her adultery and reconcile with her husband. Now this was the view of Hermas, one of the most well know of the early church fathers. Their seems to have been more leniency for a husband to divorce an adulterous wife and remarry another woman by some of the early church fathers. However, marrying a divorced woman seems to have been forbidden by most all of the ECF.

I realize the Early Church Fathers were not inspired, nor infallible, but we tend to look to the early church's beliefs for guidance in other areas such as their beliefs on not using instrumental music. Also they spoke the Koine Greek language fluently in which the New Testament was written. So there would seem to be some amount of respect appropriate to their interpretations on Scripture.

An argument you are familiar with used by many who would defend remaining in an adulterous marriage if baptism took place after the adulterous marriage occurred is that somehow the baptism washes away the sin of adultery. Now I'll admit I have wondered myself why Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 never told anyone who may have been in an adulterous marriage to break up that marriage in order to repent. And based on what I understand the culture of that time to have been, I'm very confident there were those who had been converted who were in unscriptural marriages at the time of their baptism. One way of explaining this, and this is my opinion, is that many of those converted during the time of Paul may have been divorced and remarried before Christ died. We know before the  death of Christ the Old Testament permitted divorce and remarriage and maybe this was the reason Paul did not require breaking up these marriages as an act of repentance.

I would appreciate your thoughts on this matters.


Hello Mark,

I understand the nature of your question and the context behind it.  Let me be up front with you about this one thing.  Out of all the people you have met, contacted, conversed with, etc. about the church of Christ and religious topics, I am one of the most anti-commentary people there is.  Let me clarify that to be precise.  As you said, those men were uninspired.  That means they have zero authority.  Therefore, appealing to them as if they had any is not the correct approach to take.  They, like any preacher or commentator today, are useful for personal study but nothing more.  Even my own answers here on "All Experts" is nothing more than my best, uninspired understanding.  You still have to verify in accord with scripture.

Furthermore, those folks up to 500 years out can (and were) just as flawed in their understanding many times as we are today.  I mean, the Catholic church officially got started in the 300's, and probably before that in terms of apostasy.  I accord them no more respect than scholars today.

Having said that, I will move on to the question at hand.  I will only address my answer from scripture.

We need to first off address 1 Cor. 7, since you brought it up.  The short version is that 1 Cor. 7 has no bearing on the question of divorce at all.  It's not in that passage whatsoever.  I have a wiki on which I keep my thoughts on a number of scripture available for anyone who cares to look.  The article that would interest you on this for the long version is found at this link - 1 Corinthians 7.

Next, it is important to address all that the New Testament, and specifically Jesus, taught on the topic, not just one passage.  I will list them here for convenience.

Matthew 5:31-32 - It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 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.

Matthew 19:3-9 - The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, 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.

Mark 10:2-12 - And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

Luke 16:18 - Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.

First of all, we must define our terms.  There are three distinct actions involved in this question: marriage, divorce, "marry another".  There is also the terms "fornication" and "adultery" to consider.

Marriage - the Biblical union of one man and one woman.  According to the Biblical union, the law of the land has a separate, but critical part in this (Romans 7:1-4).  A couple must be legally married according to the laws of the land to be considered married.  However, the laws of the land are subservient to God's Law and cannot usurp it.  A marriage that is not legal according to God's Law cannot be truly forged only according to man's.  Homosexual marriage is therefore non-sensical.  As is marriage to an animal, a tree, or an inanimate object like a car.  Lastly, a marriage forged according to God's Law cannot be sundered by man without God's authority to do so (Matt. 19:6).

Divorce - this is a legal term, not just physical separation, but an ending to a contract.  Since there are two laws in consideration, man's and God's, for the divorce to be a true divorce, God's law must be satisfied, and then man's law makes the event a reality.  If man's law declares two people divorced, their marriage ended, but not according to God's law, then the subservient law of man has no power and the divorce is not true.  If God's law determines a divorce to be acceptable, then the divorce takes place when the details according to man's law are satisfied in harmony with the superior law.  If man's law refuses to acknowledge a justifiable divorce, then God's law still takes precedence and the married couple may proceed despite man's laws.

Divorce is a singular event, not an ongoing state like marriage.

Marry another - according to passages above, to marry another is to marry someone who is not the original spouse.  This then eliminates the concept of remarrying the original spouse after a divorce and that is not in consideration here.

Fornication - I believe this might be where some sort of contention is held within the churches of Christ.  I have heard some in the past attempt to argue that fornication relates directly to prostitution in the pagan temples and is not general sex outside of marriage.  However, a quick examination of several Bible passages shows that not to be the case.  Fornication is simply sex outside of the marriage bed.  1 Cor. 5:1f speaks of a man having sex with his father's wife (mother or step-mother is not stated).  The indication here is of a sexual relationship outside of marriage (the man was not married to his father's wife) but without any contextual reference to the pagan temples.  In 1 Cor. 7:2, the admontion to husband and wife is to not withhold their bodies sexually from one another in order to avoid fornication.  The implication is that if they aren't getting sex from their spouse, they'll seek sex somewhere else.  This is the very essence of sex outside of the marriage bond.

Adultery - Sex with someone you are not married to according to God's law.  Man's law is only secondary to this.  Adultery has to be committed against a spouse.  A never-married person cannot committ this sin.

Without getting into a bunch of scenarios, then, we can simply examine what Jesus said and hold up any case to what was said and see if it fits.  If it does not, then the case is sinful.

It is the case that there is an exception.  It is explicit in the text:  "except for fornication".  To deny that divorce has any exception at all is to contradict explicit scripture.  The only problem would come in defining what that exception is.  According to the definition of fornication, the exception is sex with someone that is not your spouse, regardless of connection to prostitution (which is only a subset of this and included, but not all inclusive).

Divorce for any other reason is not a Legal divorce according to God's Law and therefore the couple remains married despite what man's subservient law declares.  We know this to be true because if such a divorce happens, Jesus declared that they would be comitting adultery if they married another (according to man's laws, since this could not be a Legal marriage according to God's Law).  Note that it is the marriage itself that is declared adultery.  

Since marriage is inherently for the purpose of procreation, which is a product of sex, then the marriage itself is a state of adultery regardless of how many times the physical act happens.  Any divorce for reason other than fornication is sinful.

Furthermore, that "marry another" is defined explicitly as adultery and not some other sexual sin demands that there be a person, a spouse, against whom the adultery is committed.  This demands the conclusion that the person who "married another" after an Illegal divorce according to God's Law is still married to their original spouse.  Adultery is otherwise impossible.

Lastly, if fornication happens on the part of one spouse, it gives the other grounds for Legal divorce according to God's Law.  They may, hopefully as a last resort, end their marriage.  If a husband cheats on the wife, and the wife decides divorce is the only recourse, she may divorce the husband according to God's Law for the reason of fornication, the explicit exception, and be no longer married.  Therefore she is elligeable to marry again (not "another", because she is no longer married).  The cheating husband, however, did not divorce for reason of fornication, therefore he is not Legally elligeable to remarry.

This is the general layout of the arguments I would give.  If you have something more specific in mind, ask it as a followup and I will do my best to answer from scripture.

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Ernie Laurence, Jr.


I am capable of answering any questions concerning doctrines of the church of Christ. I specialize in Creation vs. Evolution topics, the book of Revelation and other Biblical prophecies, and other apologetics related topics such as distinctions from denominational doctrines.


My experience in this area includes: having been raised by members of the church of Christ from infancy, having been immersed into the church of Christ at age ten, having taken an active role in worship/service leadership (song leading, teaching, preaching, youth ministry) since age fourteen through the present, and participating in numerous formal debates, research projects, and online discussions.

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I hold a bachelor's degree in computer information systems (CIS) from Tarleton State University which focuses on business communication and management. This provided training for how to deal professionally with individuals and organizations if not direct training in the field of religion. See experience section for informal education experience.

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