Here is a situation that I have come up against just lately, and would
like your opinion. I listened to a CD by David Bercot, author of “Will the
Real Heretics Please Stand Up?,” about the stance of the early Christians
on divorce and remarriage. He states pretty clearly that it was the
original belief and practice to never allow remarriage, at least while the
original spouse was alive. The part that I am not so sure about is that
it seems like the first person that a person has sexual relations with is
considered to be the spouse, and the only person that a person can morally
be married to. It’s not stated that directly but seems like a corollary of
what he says…

Of course the practice of many is to basically forget about everything
from before we get baptized, but this is making me think that maybe I am
not eligible for marriage, because of pre-baptism immorality. Have you
ever heard of this argument from the early Christians on this subject or
do you have any comments on this? I am prepared to never marry but would
prefer to be able to if possible.


On marriage and divorce much has been written and said. I am willing to
put in my two cents if you like, but there are a number of solid books
written by experts on this. I have read Bercot’s book. I would agree
with him on what the early church practiced. In my opinion, Bercot tends
a bit too far toward assuming that the early church practice is binding on
us. I would say that the biblical passages are binding on us, and the
very early church practices are instructive to help us understand how the
apostles interpreted and taught NT principles, but are not binding.

On the New Testament teaching, we have principally Matthew 18 and 1
Corinthians 7. Here is what I believe on this. First of all, God is very
serious about marriage. Marriage is for life in his eyes. The only
acceptable reason for divorce and remarriage of a Christian (italics
important) is if one spouse has been maritally unfaithful. In that case,
the faithful spouse is free to divorce and remarry. Whether or not the
unfaithful spouse who sinned and was divorced is free to repent, and later
to remarry is debatable. There is a very important think called grace to
take into account, but the New Testament does not give a specific answer
to this question.

For those who are married to non-Christians, 1 Cor 7 teaches that if their
spouses seek a divorce, then the Christian spouse is “not bound.” The
obvious interpretation is that these people are free to marry a Christian
if their non-believing spouse divorces them. I have found the arguments
of those who have interpreted this differently to sound extremely

Clearly, God does have a somewhat different “standard” for activity begun
before baptism, but it is worth noting that this is primarily about not
having Christian morality be forced on a non-believer.

About someone who committed immorality before marriage, I cannot see how
you can prove from scripture that God sees an immoral relationship as
marriage. Marriage is a commitment between two people to be together for
life. Clearly, we are forgiven of our sin by Jesus’ blood. In order to
reach a conclusion that a person who has committed fornication before
baptism is not allowed to be married, you would need a scripture to back
that up. There is no passage which teaches that. You would also need a
passage which taught that an immoral sexual liason is a marriage. Now, I
will admit that there is one passage, 1 Cor 6:16,17 which could be read to
lean in this direction, and I imagine this is the one you are reading. I
believe that in this passage, Paul is making a point about how seriously
God views the sexual relationship–including the spiritual analogy of this
union. I do not believe he is teaching that we are married to anyone we
have sex with. Otherwise, many of us would be married to a lot of
women!!!! That interpretation is very forced. One thing many of us
struggle with is separating law or rule from principle. I believe Paul
is teaching principle, not law in 1 Corinthians 16. Actually, he is
teaching both. The “law” is that any kind of sex outside of marriage is
sin. The principle is that marriage is a union, and that sex is part of
that union, so it is an abomination for anyone to not that that union

I do not agree that we should “forget everything that happened before we
get baptized.” I believe that commitments we made before baptism should
still be taken very seriously. Paul makes it quite plain that we should
strongly consider staying in the situation were in when we were baptized.
What I can agree with is that we are forgiven of all our sins, both past
and future, when we are baptized, and that baptism is a spiritual new
beginning. I do not agree that we get the right to say, “hey, that was
before my baptism, why do you bring that up.” There may still be
implications, consequences, commitments from before which we must deal
with after baptism.

So, yes, I have heard these arguments. I agree with Bercot on most
things, but would caution against making early church practices binding.
I definitely, absolutely, very strongly believe that you are free to marry
as a Christian.

John Oakes, PhD

Comments are closed.