Project Canterbury









G. H. BOX, D.D.











Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2008















INTRODUCTORY [1] [(1) By Dr. Gore.]

DR. CHARLES has recently issued a little book entitled The Teaching of the New Testament on Divorce. [2] [(2) Williams and Norgate, 1921.] It contains a revised version of a sermon (which excited considerable attention) preached in Westminster Abbey, where Dr. Charles holds the offices of Canon and Archdeacon, with nine brief supplementary and explanatory chapters. The main purpose of the book is to support, in part by new and rather astonishing arguments, a very old and familiar position--viz., that in the teaching of Christ marriage is indissoluble save for adultery, which dissolves it and sets the innocent party free to remarry. "He [Christ] branded as adulterers both the man who put away his wife on such grounds [other grounds than adultery] and married another, and likewise the man who married a woman who had been put away on such grounds. Marriage is indissoluble save on the grounds of adultery." [3] [(3) P. 17.] "Christ, by accepting the Jewish Law relating to the adulterous wife and confining His own enactments to less grievous offenders, implicitly [7/8] allows the right of divorce on the ground of adultery, as well as subsequent remarriage on the part of the guiltless person concerned, but forbids divorce on any lesser ground, as well as the remarriage of those divorced on any lesser ground." [1] [(1) P. 33.] By the use of the word "guiltless," repeated in the context, Dr. Charles clears up the ambiguity in the first sentence just quoted, and implies that Christ does not sanction the remarriage of the guilty party. The strength of this familiar view, held by many even of the leading Tractarians, lies in the exceptive clauses of St. Matthew, "saving for the cause of fornication" (v. 32), "except for fornication" (xix. 9).

Now I have written a little book on the subject of Divorce generally, [2] [(2) The Question of Divorce (John Murray).] to the arguments and conclusions of which I adhere. In this present book Dr. Box and I do not deal with the question at large, but only with the special arguments of Dr. Charles. I desire, however, on my own account, to reiterate what I have said before, that I am not able to doubt that the exceptive clauses in St. Matthew mean what Dr. Charles and many others interpret them to mean, and I cannot deny to any "national" Church the right to avail itself of these exceptive clauses--as, for instance, the American Episcopal Church has done--and to sanction the remarriage of the innocent party. However, the early undivided Church did not take this view, nor the later Western Church, nor does the Anglican reformed Church in its Canons and Prayer Book. [3] [(3) This is shown in The Question of Divorce, chapters i. and iii.] I find it astonishing, therefore, that Dr. Charles should say "there is no justification whatever [8/9] in Christ's teaching for the attitude assumed by a large body of ecclesiastics who, at the present day, deny the right of divorce in the case of adultery, and the right of subsequent remarriage to the guiltless person." [1] [(1) P. 31.] Surely St. Matthew's account of our Lord's teaching, on which Dr. Charles so much relies, recognizes in the Church the power to bind and loose; and accordingly I should have thought there was, even from Dr. Charles's point of view, some justification for clergy obeying the "binding" of the Church Catholic and their own particular Church, supported as it is by so much apparent evidence of the New Testament. But Dr. Charles loves strong and unqualified language.

In one of the later chapters of his book, as we shall see, Dr. Charles appears to open the doors to divorce as widely as possible (chap. vi.), but, as I have said, in his main restricted contention there is nothing new. What is new lies in certain arguments with which he supports this contention: (1) That the Jewish Law decreed death for the adulterous wife, that the law was still in force until a few years after our Lord's death, that our Lord accepted it, and that therefore there was no question of divorce in cases of adultery; or in so far as that question arose through neglect of the strict law of capital punishment, the legitimacy or obligatoriness of divorce in such cases was taken for granted by our Lord and by all the Jews of all schools of thought. Thus, though Dr. Charles admits that the exceptive clauses in St. Matthew are glosses or interpretations inserted into the words of Christ as they existed in the documents and tradition on which the Evangelist depended, he insists that the gloss [9/10] or interpretation gives the real or original meaning of our Lord. This is the point of chapter i. The question will be argued from the point of view of the Jewish Law by Dr. Box in Chapter II. of this book. I would only remark, as one who is no expert on the subject of the Jewish Law, that, to give Dr. Charles's argument its force, what he must prove is not only that the ancient Jewish law of capital punishment was formally unrepealed, but that it was actually enforced. But the obvious assumption of John viii. 1-11 is that the adulterous woman was not going to be stoned. John xviii. 31, "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death," suggests the main reason. And Dr. Charles admits that the extreme penalty was beyond doubt "frequently evaded." [1] [(1) Pp. 6, 9, 21.] I suspect it was rarely inflicted. And in that case we are back on the old ground. The Jews allowed or commanded the divorce of the adulterous wife and allowed the remarriage of the husband. But did our Lord accept this law or drastically revise it? For I am not able to doubt that our Lord was (rightly) understood by St. Paul, by the Evangelists, and by the early Church to have done in this case what He rarely did--that is, to have spoken as a legislator for His society and disciples. But on this latter point something more will be said later. [2] [(2) See below, pp. 57, 58.]

(2) Dr. Charles repudiates the position that Matthew xix. 3-9 is based upon Mark x. 1-12. In spite of the admitted gloss, he thinks St. Matthew reproduces faithfully an original oracle which St. Mark spoils in the reproduction. And he holds also that the exceptive gloss made explicit in St. Matthew is implied in Mark x. 2-12 and in Luke xvi. 18.

[11] (3) He admits (chap. iv.) that St. Paul in 1 Corinthians vii. 1-11, as the text stands, prohibits remarriage after divorce, and declares this to be "the word of the Lord," but he believes the crucial words in verse 11 ("but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried," etc.) to be "the interpolation of an ignorant scribe." [1] [(1) P. 54.] Further, he finds in 1 Corinthians vi. 15-16 the assertion of the principle that the adultery of a husband dissolves his marriage. In Romans vii. 1-3 he finds (chap. iii.) nothing relevant to the particular controversy. And, finally, he follows many Protestants in extending what is called "the Pauline privilege" (1 Cor. vii. 12-15) from cases of marriage among non-Christians to cover cases of marriage between Christians (chap. vi.).

In Chapter IV. of this book I am to deal with all these positions (2) and (3), beginning with St. Paul.

(4) Dr. Charles (chap. vi.) surprises us with a laxity about possible occasions for divorce for which the rest of his book had not prepared us. No doubt he is face to face with the fact that the mere admission of the legitimacy of the remarriage of the innocent husband after divorcing his wife for adultery, even if (what St. Matthew does not appear to contemplate) it is equalized by the admission of a similar right on the part of the woman, is not practical politics. Our State law already goes beyond it by admitting the remarriage of the guilty party. A powerful section of public opinion demands much more. And Dr. Charles surprisingly discloses a willingness to give them what they ask by appealing to arguments which seem to dissolve the whole foundation of the marriage law. This position I am to deal with in Chapter V. [11/12] It seems to render the whole of his previous arguments, which assumed that marriage was a public, social fact, and that Christ prohibited all divorce except for adultery and pronounced remarriage after a divorce for any lesser cause to be itself adultery, quite unreal.

[13] CHAPTER II [1] [(1) By Dr. Box.]


IN his discussion of this subject, which is contained in the first chapter of his book, [2] [(2) "Christ's Teaching on Divorce," (chap. i.).] Dr. Charles has argued that Christ accepted as axiomatic the principle that the marriage-bond is automatically dissolved by the act of adultery; Christ, we are told, pronounced no censure on remarriage under such circumstances. The contrary view, according to Dr. Charles's opinion, is absurd, and he does not hesitate to denounce those "ecclesiastics" who assert it as "lording" it "mercilessly over the heritage committed to them," and as "making void the teaching of Christ by their traditions." [3] The Teaching of the New Testament on Divorce, p. 34.]

The view that Christ sanctioned divorce for adultery is, of course, as Dr. Gore has pointed out, not new. What is new in Dr. Charles's discussion is the line of argument on which he relies to justify his position. This is entirely based upon the construction of certain Jewish evidence which, as I hope to show, he has misunderstood and misapplied. At most, in my opinion, it amounts to ingenious special pleading, which will not bear the test of scientific criticism.

The problems involved in the marriage question, under the conditions of modern life, are complicated [13/14] and intricate in the highest degree; and the attitude that faithful Christian people ought to take to the questions at issue is beset by many and serious difficulties. But the gravest disservice that can be rendered at the present time is to darken counsel by misrepresenting, however unwittingly, the principles on which the teaching of our Lord on the subject is based.


For the purposes of this discussion it is necessary that we should have before us the passages in the Gospels which embody Christ's teaching on the subject. The passages in question are four in number--viz., Matthew v. 32, xix. 3 ff.; Mark x. 3 ff.; and Luke xvi. 18. The most important of these are the parallel sections contained in Mark x. 3 ff. and Matthew xix. 3 ff. The former of these runs as follows:

And there came unto him Pharisees, 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. But Jesus said unto them, For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, male and female made he them. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the twain shall become one flesh: so that they are no more twain, but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

[And in the house the disciples asked him again of this matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her: and if she herself shall put away her husband, and marry another, she committeth adultery.]

The logion embodied in the last [bracketed] clause in this extract, giving the private teaching of Jesus to the disciples, reappears in Luke xvi. 18, which runs as follows:

[15] Everyone that putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery; and he that marrieth one that is put away from a husband committeth adultery.

The parallel passage to the Markan extract given above is contained in Matthew xix. 3 ff., which runs as follows:

And there came to him Pharisees, tempting him, saying, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? But he answered and said, Have ye not read that he which made them from the beginning, made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the twain shall become one flesh? What God hath joined together let not man put asunder. They say to him, Why, then, did Moses command to give a bill of divorcement and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses for your hardness of heart suffered you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it hath not been so. And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, [1] [(1) Or, "saving for the cause of unchastity."] and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and he that marrieth her, when she is put away, committeth adultery.

Lastly, in Matthew v. 32, we have another passage (in the "Sermon on the Mount") which also contains the excepting clause that is peculiar to the first Gospel:

Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for the cause of fornication, [1] [(1) Or, "saving for the cause of unchastity."] maketh her an adulteress; and whosoever marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery.

It will be evident at once, if we compare the Markan and Matthean accounts, that there are certain differences, both as regards the teaching and the circumstances attending it. Dr. Charles insists that on the whole the Matthean form is the more original. This section possibly, but not certainly, belongs to the Q element in the Gospels--i.e., roughly that part of the Gospels which contains the teaching and discourses of Jesus, and is preserved mainly in the Gospels of [15/16] Matthew and Luke (but not in Mark), and most fully in Matthew. Thus the Sermon on the Mount may, as a whole, be assigned to this source (Q). Unfortunately, however, we do not possess the Q document in its original shape. We only know it as it has been used and worked up in the first and third Gospels. Not improbably Mark was to some extent influenced by Q (which is the oldest source embodied in the Gospels), and on rare occasions cites from it, though it was not the purpose of the second Evangelist to embody the Q material in his Gospel as a whole. It was rather his intention, probably, to supplement Q; and in the rare cases where he does cite from this source, he may be doing so from memory.

In the case of the parallel accounts we are considering--viz., Mark x. 2-12 and Matthew xix. 3-9--it is difficult to decide whether these are ultimately based on Q or not. The fact that there is no corresponding section in Luke militates against the view that Mark is here dependent upon Q. On the other hand, the section contains important teaching which a priori we should have expected to find in Q. But more probably the real representation of the Q teaching on Divorce is contained in the logion, which is embodied in Luke xvi. 18, Matthew v. 32, Mark x. 11-12. [1] [(1) See the Oxford Studies in the Synoptic Problem (ed. by Dr. Sanday), p. 177.] Mark, in fact, does cite Q in these last two verses, but supplements the Q saying by the narrative of the circumstances leading up to it (Mark x. 2-9).

Thus it is probable that the Markan narrative (Mark x. 2-9) is primary, and not derived from Q; and that Matthew (xix. 3-9) is using Mark. The real evidence of Q on the subject is to be found in the logion: [16/17] "Every one that putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery; and he that marrieth one that is put away from a husband committeth adultery" (Luke xvi. i8, Mark x. ii; cf. Matt. v. 32). As Q is the earliest source embodied in the Gospels [1] [(1) "Q is perfectly intelligible as a document written to supplement the living tradition of a generation that had known Christ. Within a dozen years after the event something of the kind would be needed. It is not intelligible as a document thirty or forty years later, when the events which Q presupposes as matter of common knowledge were a generation old" (Streeter in Oxford Studies, 212 f.).] (it may have been produced as early as A.D. 45), this is in some respects the most valuable piece of evidence we have for our Lord's teaching on the subject. And it is to be noticed that in the Lukan form, which, it is generally agreed among scholars, represents the oldest form of the Q teaching, the prohibition is absolute. There is no qualification whatever. The Q material embodied in the first Gospel had been modified and reshaped, probably, before it was used by the compiler of St. Matthew. The original Q "was a Palestinian document, reflecting the conditions of life in Palestine, and would therefore have been specially cherished in Palestinian circles. But it would clearly have required expansion and modification, if it continued to be used [before the compilation of our present Gospels] as a separate document. This probably happened. It was used for catechetical purposes, and reshaped for such use." [2[ [(2) See St. Matthew (Century Bible), by G. H. Box, p. 17.] And it was probably in this reshaped form that it was used by the compiler of Matthew.

It is possible that Matthew xix. 3-9 is not primarily based upon the Markan parallel (Mark x. 2-9), but was derived from an expanded and reshaped form of Q. In the Matthean form the question of divorce arises [17/18] in connection with the controversy that divided the schools of Hillel and Shammai, the former taking the view--theoretically at any rate--that a man might put away his wife for practically any cause, if she displeased him; while the latter limited the exercise of the right to the case of unchastity. The question, as given in Matthew, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" would well suit such a connection, and may be an original element in Q. But much more important than this is the question whether as a whole Mark preserves a correct account of our Lord's teaching. In the Markan account, and also in Luke xvi. 18, the prohibition of divorce is absolute. In Matthew (xix. 9, cf. v. 32) a limiting clause is introduced, except for fornication or unchastity. This clearly is a case of editorial addition or modification. It formed no part of our Lord's teaching in its original form, which is preserved correctly in Mark and Luke. Dr. Charles, in fact, admits that it is a gloss, introduced into the text by the compiler of the first Gospel. But he contends that it is a correct gloss, intended to guard the passage from misinterpretation. The argument by which he justifies this contention we shall proceed to examine.


Dr. Charles insists, quite rightly, that the question propounded to Jesus by the Pharisees, as given by the first Evangelist, was a test question, based upon the disputes of rival Jewish parties. The question runs "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" As has already been pointed out, the schools of Hillel and Shammai, at the time of our Lord's public ministry probably, and certainly later, were [18/19] sharply divided on the subject of the grounds which would justify a man in divorcing his wife.

This difference of attitude was due to, or at any rate was justified by, a difference of interpretation of the law in Deuteronomy xxiv.:

When a man taketh a wife and marrieth her . . . if she find no favour in his eyes because he hath found some unseemly thing in her, he shall write her a bill of divorcement.

Now, the expression rendered here unseemly thing is a strange one in Hebrew, and gave rise to different interpretations. The words (Hebrew 'erwath dabar), literally rendered, mean "uncleanness of a thing"--i.e., according to the commonly accepted exegesis, "unseemly thing," or anything unseemly. This was interpreted by the Hillelites in the lax sense to include any kind of uncomeliness which might be so regarded in the husband's eyes. The Shammaites, on the other hand, understood the Mosaic enactment in a stricter sense. Following a slightly different reading of the Hebrew text, [1] [(1) The two Hebrew words were inverted and read "debar 'erwah"="a matter of unchastity." Cf. Mishnah,Gittin ix. 11.] they interpreted the expression rendered "unseemly thing" to mean "a matter of unchastity"---i.e., illicit sexual intercourse with another, or, in the case of a married woman as presupposed in the text, adultery. On this passage Dr. Charles observes:

These verses [Deut. xxiv. 1-3] gave the Jew the right to divorce his wife on the ground that he had found in her "some unseemly thing." Now, that this unseemly thing did not mean adultery is clear from the fact that the adulterous wife and her paramour were to be put to death, [2] [(2) Italics mine.] whereas the wife in this case is divorced on the ground of some unseemly thing, and set free to marry another man. The meaning of the phrase "unseemly thing" is obscure. It seems to have involved something indecent, but certainly something short of adultery [2] [(2) Italics mine.] (op. cit., p. 10 f.).

[20] Now, Dr. Charles admits that the Shammaites interpreted the phrase "unseemly thing" to refer to adultery and adultery alone. It follows, therefore, that this school found sanction in the text of the Law itself for enforcing divorce for adultery. Further, though the Hillelites, interpreting the expression in a lax sense, found in it sanction for divorce on other grounds than adultery, there is no reason to suppose that they would have excluded adultery as not falling under the category of "some unseemly thing." Dr. Charles is consequently wrong in his assertion that the expression involved "certainly something short of adultery." He attempts, indeed, to defend this exegesis by reference to another enactment of the Law which deals with a special case of adultery (Deut. xxii. 22). But he has misunderstood its import, as I shall proceed to show.

Further, Dr. Charles does not seem to realize that the Law in practice was administered at the time of our Lord's ministry, and subsequently, by scribes or "doctors of the Law," who were themselves members of the school of either Hillel or Shammai. The scholars who belonged to these schools were themselves in most cases the judges who carried out, through the Rabbinical courts, the enactments of the Law. They not only expounded the Law, but administered it.

It is true that at this time the Great Sanhedrin, which constituted the supreme court, included a proportion of Sadducees as members, who represented a tradition distinct from that of the Hillelite and Shammaite schools. But scribes of both the Rabbinical schools were also members of this body, and, indeed, became increasingly powerful in it as time went on. Outside the Great Sanhedrin both Shammaites and [20/21] Hillelites were supreme. There is good reason to believe that at the time of our Lord's ministry the school of Shammai was dominant. As by this school "unchastity" or adultery on the part of a married woman was recognized as the sole valid ground for divorce under the law of Deuteronomy xxiv. 1-3, divorce for adultery must have been the normal practice in such cases. The Hillelites, in pressing for an extension of grounds for divorce, took up a position similar to that of our modern "Divorce Law Reformers." But their position did not finally prevail till after A.D. 70, when the whole traditional law of Judaism was finally redacted in accordance with Hillelite views. Dr. Charles describes the Shammaite exegesis of Deuteronomy xxiv. 1-3 as "indefensible." It is necessary for his argument to do so. But such a contention is really irrelevant. The ancient Mosaic Law was necessarily reinterpreted from time to time to meet changing circumstances. All codes of law must be thus modified and adapted if the law is to be effective. What is really important is to discover how an ancient enactment was commonly understood and officially administered at a particular time. There can be no doubt that at the time of our Lord's ministry the practice of allowing, or rather enforcing, divorce for adultery on the part of a wife was commonly recognized as normal legal procedure.

It is true that in the Mosaic Law adultery is treated in a special category by itself, as an offence so heinous that, under certain circumstances, the guilty parties were to be punished by death (cf. Deut. xxii. 22, Lev. xx. 10). Ancient Israelitish law was very severe in cases of this kind, and the penalty was in earlier times [21/22] mercilessly enforced (cf. Ezek. xvi. 38-40, xxiii. 45) The Law also prescribed the death penalty in cases of unchastity other than adultery, such as seduction, rape, etc. (cf. Deut. xxii. 23 ff.). Dr. Charles believes that this ruthless law was enforced in the time of Christ--at any rate it was still valid (though, he admits, frequently evaded)--as the only law recognized as applicable to such cases. It was, he thinks, abrogated shortly after the close of our Lord's ministry, when compulsory divorce was substituted for the death penalty. On this contention he founds his exegesis of the Gospel accounts of our Lord's teaching on divorce. By implication, he argues, the special case of adultery is excluded in all Christ's utterances on the subject. If his thesis about the continued validity of the old Jewish law in the time of Christ cannot be sustained, the whole of his argument collapses.

Referring to Deuteronomy xxii. 22, and xxiv. 1, 2, he states his thesis as follows:

The first of these passages prescribes the penalty of death for the adulterous wife and her paramour; the second allows the husband to divorce his wife for some lesser offence than adultery. . . . The first law, as I have said, prescribed death as the punishment of the adulterous woman and her paramour. This stern law remained on the Jewish statute-book till A.D. 30, as we find in both the Babylonian (Sanh. 41a) and Jerusalem (Sanh. i8a, 24b) Talmuds. After this date the death penalty was abolished, probably owing to the pressure of the Roman authorities. Thus the law was in force during our Lord's ministry, and for one or more years after its close. This fact is full of significance. The Mishnah (Sanh. vii. 2) states on the authority of Eliezer ben Zadok that this penalty was inflicted early in the first century of our era. After A.D. 30 the husband was compelled by Jewish law to divorce his adulterous wife (Sotah vi. 1). He was allowed no other option. That the extreme penalty of the law was frequently evaded through compromise and heavy compensation there can be no doubt. Notwithstanding, this was the only law regarding the adulterous wife acknowledged as valid by the religious authorities of Judaism [22/23] during our Lord's ministry. [1] [(1) Italics mine.] This is the first fact which it is important to recognize in the study of this question, and which must always be taken account of in connection with it. [2] [(2) Op. cit., p. 5 f.]

This paragraph is full of misstatements and mistaken inferences, as I shall proceed to show. Dr. Charles finds Gospel recognition of this alleged Jewish law in the section which appears in the fourth Gospel (John vii. 53-viii. 11) about the woman taken in adultery, on which more will be said presently. Meanwhile it will be useful to notice what far-reaching inferences Dr. Charles deduces from his construction of the Jewish evidence. He says:

We conclude . . . that in all our Lord said in regard to divorce and remarriage He recognized the validity of this law, which we know was still accepted as valid by the religious leaders of Judaism. According to this law the adulteress and her paramour were to be put to death. In this case there was no doubt as to the dissolution of the marriage. The law treats the marriage bond as absolutely broken, and therefore as dissolved, by the act of adultery, and even to the drastic means of inflicting the penalty incurred our Lord takes no exception. Remarriage, of course, in such a case would follow. But if the extreme penalty of the law was evaded, as in the section in John, and only divorce followed on the absolute breach of the marriage tie, remarriage followed as a matter of course in Judaism. To this, again, our Lord makes no objection. [3] [(3) Op. cit., p. 8.]

By this ingenious argument Dr. Charles reads into the Gospel text of the Markan and Lukan passages a number of implications which have the effect of making these passages say what in fact they do not say. The whole validity of the argument depends upon the construction of the Jewish evidence: and it is just here that Dr. Charles has gravely misstated and misunderstood the real facts.

[24] III.

(1) In the first place, Dr. Charles has not correctly stated the procedure enjoined in the Mosaic Law as applicable to cases of adultery. The enactment to which he refers, and on which his argument is based (Dent. xxii. 22), [1] [(1) If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, the man that lay with the woman and the woman: so shalt thou put away the evil from Israel.] contemplates the case of two persons caught in the very act (cf. John viii. 4). But such cases must have been of extremely rare occurrence. Far more frequently the case of suspected adultery arose. The adultery might be suspected, but difficult to prove.

To meet such cases as these the procedure described in Numbers v. 11-31 (the ordeal by bitter waters) was adopted. Now, by the first century of our era this procedure had been modified in various ways, and was applied to suspected cases simply as a test, with a view to eliciting a confession. The suspected woman was taken to the local court by her husband, and there his charge was made. The court assigned two doctors of the Law to escort the parties to the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. The purpose of the hearing before the Sanhedrin, which held its meetings in a chamber adjoining the Temple precincts, was to evoke a confession. The Sanhedrin appealed to the woman and suggested various causes which might have induced her to go astray, and finally asked her to confess. If she admitted her crime she was divorced from her husband, and lost her property rights under the marriage settlement. On the other hand, if she refused to undergo the ordeal, and there was circumstantial [24/25] evidence of her guilt, she was compelled to separate from her husband.

In this case--that of the woman suspected of adultery--it is clear that even on the strict and literal interpretation of the Mosaic Law, the death penalty would not, in any event, have been inflicted. And, as a matter of fact, within the last century of the second Temple's existence, if not earlier, the penalty actually imposed upon the guilty wife was compulsory divorce. Consequently, divorce for adultery, confessed or proved, was normal legal procedure in the time of Christ. A similar conclusion may be derived from the story of Joseph's suspicions about the Virgin Mary, as described in Matthew i.

The evidence for what has just been stated regarding Jewish practice on this matter can be found in the tractate of the Mishnah known as Sotah. It may be objected that this evidence must be received with a certain amount of caution, when an attempt is being made to reconstruct the state of things existing in the time of Christ. The Mishnah itself is not a contemporary document, but was only put into its present shape about the end of the second century A.D. This is true. Caution is necessary. It must be remembered, however, that the Mishnah embodies much old material, some of which goes back to pre-Christian times. But when due allowance has been made for this margin of possible uncertainty, the evidence is sufficiently clear that the state of things, as described above, was in existence. It must be remembered that the ordeal was a rite which could be carried out only within the Temple. With the destruction of the latter in A.D. 70 it necessarily came to an end. But it is clear that before this happened the rite had [25/26] undergone a long history. During the last days of the dying Jewish State, when the armies of Rome were threatening Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, under the presidency of the famous Rabban Jochanan ben Zakkai, abolished the rite entirely. As the Mishnah states (Sotah ix. 9), "when adulterers became numerous, the 'ordeal of the bitter waters' ceased, and it was R. Jochanan ben Zakkai who abolished it." The Mishnah quotes Hosea iv. 14 [1] [(1) I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for they themselves go apart with whores, and they sacrifice with harlots; and the people that doth not understand shall be overthrown.] in this connection.

In fact, before these last dark days, during the earlier period it appears that immorality had spread among the people; the judges had become corrupt, the administration of justice suffered, and general demoralization set in. It was part of a movement to stem this tide of immorality, perhaps, that led Queen Helena of Adiabene, a proselyte to, and a munificent patroness of, Judaism, [2] [(2) She was converted to Judaism about A.D. 30 and died in A.D. 56.] to present a golden tablet to the Temple on which was engraven the passage from the Law (Num. v. 19-22) about the ordeal by bitter waters (see the Mishnah, Yoma iii. 10). This action was probably dictated by a desire to revive the rite, which had, apparently, fallen into abeyance. But before this happened--sometime, probably, between A.D. 40 and 50--time must be allowed for the rather elaborate Rabbinical modifications of the old enactment to have grown up. These were in the direction of mitigating the severity of the ancient law, the extreme penalties of which had long since fallen into abeyance.

If Christ, then, categorically denounced divorce, and [26/27] remarriage after divorce, as a breach of the Divine Law, His words cannot be minimized by asserting that divorce for adultery is excluded from the purview of His words. It was a well-known and normal practice of the properly constituted Jewish courts of law at the time when He spoke. If He had desired to uphold the validity of the old Mosaic enactment, as against the milder practice which had taken its place, He would have said so plainly. But there is not the slightest hint in the Gospels that He would have sanctioned such a view. On the contrary, the incident described in John vii. 53-viii. 11, shows clearly enough that He could not be driven, even in argument or theoretically, to countenance such barbarous severity.

(2) Dr. Charles quotes a passage which appears in both the Babylonian (Sanh. 41a) and Jerusalem (Sanh. 18a, 24b) Talmuds to justify his assertion that the "stern law" (which prescribed death to the guilty parties caught in the act of adultery) "remained on the Jewish statute-book till A.D. 30." After this date "the death penalty was abolished." And he concludes from this piece of evidence that "the law was in force during our Lord's ministry, and for one or two more years after its close."

Now the passage cited from the Talmuds reproduces an ancient tradition. What it states is that "forty years before the destruction of the sanctuary [Temple] the right of inflicting capital punishment was taken away [from Israel or the Sanhedrin]." This is the form in which the tradition is given in the Jerusalem Talmud. It there appears in the midst of Rabbinical discussions as to the infliction of certain kinds of death penalty, according to the Law. It is inserted as a sort of warning rubric to guard against possible [27/28] misconception on the part of readers that these punishments were actually inflicted in the later days of the Jewish commonwealth. In the Babylonian Talmud it appears in a somewhat similar connection. The point at issue is the ruling of Jochanan ben Zakkai on a certain legal question.

"Was he, then, a member of the Sanhedrin?" the Talmud proceeds: "and is there not a Baraitha [i.e., an old tradition] that the years (age) of Rabban Jochanan ben Zakkai amounted to one hundred and twenty? Forty years he was engaged in business, forty years he studied (as a disciple), and forty years he taught (as a teacher). And there is also a Baraitha that forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the Sanhedrin went into exile, and sat in a shop. R. Yishak b. Abudimi said, 'This does not mean that they lost the power of inflicting fines, but they lost the power of inflicting capital punishment.'" [1] [(1) Cf. also T. B., Shabb., 15a; Aboda zara, 8b.]

Now, it is obvious that in all these passages "forty" is not an exact, but a round number. This is especially clear in the extract from the Babylonian Talmud, just given, where "forty years before the destruction of the Temple" occurs in close connection with the division of Jochanan ben Zakkai's life into three periods of forty years each. There is no reason to suppose that Jochanan ben Zakkai actually lived for so long a period as one hundred and twenty years, or that the division of his life into three periods of forty years each is anything but an artificial one. The use of the number forty both in Bible and Talmud in this way is well known. Next to the number "seven" it is the number of most frequent occurrence in the Bible. "In Talmudical literature it is often met with, in many instances having been apparently used as a round number, or as a concrete and definite expression in place of the abstract and indefinite 'many' or [28/29] 'some,' and hence becoming a symbolical number."[1] [(1) Cf. the Jewish Encyclopædia, v. 438, s.v. "Forty, the number." A good instance of its use as a round number is the following. In T. B., Gitt. 58a it is said that in the war of Bar Kokba forty measures of phylactery blocks were found on the heads of the slain at Bethar.] It is no doubt in the latter sense that the number "forty" is used in describing the loss by the Sanhedrin of the power of inflicting capital punishment. The exact period is not defined. The tradition simply means that for a long (but undefined) period before the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 the Jewish Sanhedrin had lost the power to inflict capital punishment. This probably happened in A.D. 6, when Judea became a Roman province, and was governed by a Roman procurator. From this time, it is probable, the right to inflict capital punishment was reserved to the Roman governor. The Roman Government was extremely jealous of this right, as, indeed, it was bound to be if it intended to exercise the full powers and responsibilities of government. Clear evidence that this power was actually vested in the Roman governor at the time of Christ's ministry is furnished by the Gospels themselves in the account of our Lord's trial; nor is there anything to suggest that this reservation was a recent innovation, introduced by Pontius Pilate. We may therefore subscribe with confidence to the verdict of Dr. Israel Abrahams--a very high authority in these matters--who says: "It is not probable that the death penalty for adultery was inflicted at all in the age of Jesus." [2] [(2) Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels, p. 73.] It is true that the Mishnah (Sanh. vii. 2) does cite a single case of an execution for adultery which is said to have taken place in the period before the destruction of the Temple. This [29/30] passage, which is noted by Dr. Charles, runs as follows:

R. Eliezer b. Zadok said: "It happened in the case of a priest's daughter [1] [(1) See next paragraph] who had committed adultery that she was surrounded with faggots and in that manner burnt." But it was replied: "The court at that time did not possess accurate knowledge."

[(1) Cf. Lev. xxi. 9: "And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the harlot, she profaneth her father; she shall be burnt with fire." Lightfoot (on Matt. xix. 8) says that the priest's daughter referred to in the Mishnah extract given above was "not married," in which event it would not have been a case of adultery. But Rashi (on Lev. xxi. 9) explains that the law would only have been applied in the case of a priest's daughter who was either betrothed or married. The Rabbis were divided on this point, but all agreed that the Law would not have been applicable to a priest's daughter who played the harlot, if she were neither betrothed nor married.]

The parallel passage in the Tosefta (ix. 11a), runs:

Said R. Eliezer, the son of R. Zadok: "When I was a child I was once carried on my father's shoulder to see a priest's daughter who had committed adultery; they surrounded her with faggots and so burnt her." They replied: "Thou wast a child, and a child cannot give evidence."

We cannot fix exact dates for this Eliezer's life. It is certain, however, that in the last days of Jerusalem he was a full-grown man, active in business life and well known. He may have been born about A.D. 36 or 37, and the incident referred to may have taken place about A.D. 41, when he was a mere child. If this was the case, it occurred when Herod Agrippa I. was King of Judæa (41-44), and when government by the Roman procurator had temporarily given way to that of a native prince. Agrippa wished to be regarded as a pious Jew; there was a sort of revival of religious observance during his brief reign. One evidence of this may have been a zealous desire to [30/31] punish such a flagrant case of adultery as that referred to, in accordance with the ancient law. In any case it was an isolated incident of so exceptional a character as to be singled out for special mention. The Babylonian Gemara on the passage suggests that the court that sanctioned this execution was a Sadducean one. This is by no means unlikely. The honour of the priesthood was involved, and this was a matter that would especially appeal to a body of Sadducees, especially at a time of religious revival. In any case the Rabbinical authorities who discuss the incident manifest extreme reluctance to accept it as valid evidence. It must be remembered that, though the Rabbis codify all the cases given in the Law in which the death penalty is prescribed, and discuss in great detail the different ways in which it should be carried out, all this is purely speculative and theoretic in character. The whole discussion is unreal. "That capital punishment was a rare occurrence in the latter days of the Jewish commonwealth," says Dr. Mendelssohn, [1] [(1) In the Jewish Encyclopædia, iii. 558, s.v. "Capital Punishment."] "is patent from the statement in the Mishnah that a court was stigmatized as 'murderous' if it condemned to death more than one human being in the course of seven years. Indeed, Eleazar b. Azariah applied the same epithet to a court that executed more than one man in every seventy years; and his famous colleagues, Tryphon and Akiba, openly avowed their opposition to capital punishment, saying: 'Had we belonged to the Sanhedrin [during Judæa's independence] no man would ever have been executed,' as they would always have found some legal informalities by which to make a sentence of death impossible." [31/32] This statement truthfully represents the spirit that animated the Rabbinical teachers and judges. It may be added that when Josephus casually states (Apion ii. 25) that the penalty for adultery is death, this dictum is, to use Dr. Abrahams's words, [1] [(1) Op. cit., ibid.] "rather an antiquarian note than a record of experience."

(3) Dr. Charles relies upon another piece of evidence in support of his contention that Christ recognized the validity of the old Mosaic enactment which prescribed death for the guilty parties detected in adultery. This is the story contained in John vii. 53-viii. 11. The story (of the woman taken in adultery), as is well known, forms no part of the true text of the Gospels. But it has widely been regarded as an authentic incident in the life of Christ. Internally it presents certain difficulties which, in the opinion of some scholars, militate against its authenticity as a piece of history. These have been formulated by Dr. Edersheim, [2] [(2) Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, ii. 163.] who says:

That a woman taken in the act of adultery should have been brought before Jesus (and apparently without witnesses of her crime); that such an utterly un-Jewish, as well as illegal, procedure should have been that of the "Scribes and Pharisees"; that such a breach of law, and of what Judaism would have regarded as decency, should have been perpetrated to "tempt" Him; or that the Scribes should have been so ignorant as to substitute stoning for strangulation as the punishment of adultery; lastly, that this scene should have been enacted in the Temple, presents a veritable climax of impossibilities.

Dr. Edersheim's language is, perhaps, over-emphatic. The story may, however, well be a piece of Christian Midrash, intended to reflect Jesus' attitude to the question of adultery and its punishment. In this sense it is doubtless authentic enough.

[33] It may be pointed out, too, that the implications of the story are that the woman has already been tried and convicted by a competent court, and, presumably, divorced. We read:

And the Scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery, and when they had set her in the midst, they say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. [l] [(1) Note the emphasis on this point. This fact would bring the case under the category of Deuteronomy xxii. 22.] Now Moses in the law commanded us that such should be stoned. But what sayest thou? This they said tempting him, that they might have to accuse him.

Obviously this is not a trial scene. The trial is over. And the mere fact that the woman is at large makes it evident that the death penalty prescribed by the Mosaic Law has not been carried out. Presumably the woman has been compulsorily divorced, and her case was a notorious one. The Scribes and Pharisees produce this notorious "case" in order to entrap Jesus in argument.

Clearly they expected our Lord to be placed in a difficulty by their question. Why? Christ had in controversy accused the Scribes and Pharisees of making the law of God "of none effect" by their traditions. The substitution of divorce for the death penalty in such a case as the one produced was against the express letter of the Law. Jesus--so it would appear--would therefore be driven to say either that the injunction of the Law ought to have been carried out, or to sanction the Rabbinic method of compulsory divorce. In any case it would seem to them that Christ was on the horns of a dilemma. If He assented to the literal wording of the Law He would appear to sanction that "hardness" of heart which He had already repudiated in His teaching on the subject. On the other hand, [33/34] if He accepted the milder punishment of divorce, He would be convicted of contradicting His own express teaching. Jesus, as a matter of fact, refused to accept either alternative. He refused to condemn the sinner in words which silenced her accusers, and which find an echo in the dictum of a later Rabbinical authority--the famous Akiba (second century A.D.)--who, referring to the ordeal, is reported to have said: "Only when the (accusing) husband is himself free from guilt will the waters be an effective test of his wife's guilt or innocence" (Sifre, Nasi, 21; Sotah, 47b). [1] [(1) See next paragraph.] What is clear from this narrative is that Christ refused to sanction any of the penalties, prescribed or accepted, for the crime of adultery--either the death penalty or divorce. The act itself is, of course, regarded as a sin. But instead of penalizing the sinner, he bids her "sin no more."

[1] [(1) Quoted by Dr. Abrahams, op. cit., p. 74. Dr. Abrahams discusses the incident of the woman taken in adultery in Hastings' Dictionary of Religion and Ethics, i. 130. He takes the view that the woman had not yet been tried by a court. But the procedure suggested above seems more natural, and whichever view be adopted it makes little difference to our argument. Abrahams adds (referring to the date given for the loss of inflicting capital punishment by the Sanhedrin--i.e., A. D. 30): "Whatever be thought of this exact date, there is no doubt that the death penalty was neither pronounced nor inflicted for adultery in the time of Christ."]

[35] CHAPTER III [1] [(1) By Dr. Box.]



THAT according to Christ's words the marriage bond, once a valid marriage has been effected, is indissoluble, except by death, comes out very clearly in the Gospel accounts of our Lord's teaching. This is especially the case in the Markan account (x. 2-12), which, however, according to Dr. Charles, has been much "edited," and bears other traces of inferiority to the Matthean version (Matt. xix. 3-9). [2] [(2) Cf. Charles, op. cit., pp. 27-31.] But whether we regard this passage in Mark as derived with Matthew xix. 3-9 from a common source, Q, or (with the majority of scholars) look upon the Markan section as the source of the Matthean--in either case Mark's testimony cannot lightly be brushed aside. It was unquestionably published before the first Gospel appeared.

The mutual relationship of the two accounts has been acutely discussed by Mr. Willoughby C. Allen, [3] [(3) St. Mathew (Intern. Critical Comm.), p. 202.] whose position as a master of synoptic criticism invests any reasoned judgment of his on a question of this kind with great weight. He says:

In Mk. [Mark] the Pharisees first put' their leading question, Is it lawful to divorce a wife? They themselves would have [35/36] no doubt of the legality of this, but they test Christ (peirazonteV), knowing probably from previous utterances of His that He would reply in words which would seem directly to challenge the Mosaic Law (cf. His criticism of the distinction between clean and unclean meats, Mark vii. 14-23). Christ answers with the expected reference to the law, What did Moses command? They state the Mosaic Law. Moses sanctioned divorce. Christ at once makes His position clear. The law upon this point was an accommodation to a rude state of society. But a prior and a higher law is to be found in the Creation narrative, male and female He created them (Gen. i. 27)--i.e., God created the two sexes that they might be united in the marriage bond, which is, therefore, ideally indissoluble. . . . All this is logical and consistent. Compare with it Mt.'s [Matthew's] account. The Pharisees are represented as inquiring, Is it lawful to put away a wife on any pretext? Christ answers as in Mk., that marriage from an ideal standpoint is indissoluble. The Pharisees appeal to the law against this judgment. In reply we should expect the Lord, as in Mk., to state the accommodating and secondary character of the legal sanction of divorce, and to reaffirm the sanctity of marriage. But instead He is represented as affirming that porneia ["unchastity," "fornication "] constitutes an exception. Thus He tacitly takes sides with the severer school of Jewish interpretation of Deuteronomy xxiv., and acknowledges the permanent validity of that law thus interpreted in a strict sense, which immediately before He had criticized as an accommodation to a rude state of social life. This inconsistency shows that Mk. is here original, and that kata pasan aitian ["for every cause"] and ei mh epi porneia ["except for fornication"] are insertions by the editor of Mt. [Matthew] into Mk.'s narrative.

On one point in the Markan account, as demonstrating its secondary and untrustworthy character, Dr. Charles insists with great emphasis. He says:

In x. 12, Mark speaks of a woman divorcing her husband. But such a statement is unhistorical, and would have been incomprehensible to a Jew. The law allowed no Jewish woman to divorce her husband, and this right was not accorded to her for a thousand years later. This unwarrantable change introduced into the text by Mark may be due to the fact that he wrote his Gospel in Rome and wished to give the words a wider application; for Roman women could divorce their husbands. But there is a further objection to this statement. It forms an intolerable anticlimax. If a husband were [36/37] forbidden to divorce his wife on certain grounds, it was wholly unnecessary to add that a wife was likewise forbidden to divorce her husband on similar grounds, seeing that by the law she never had the right to divorce her husband at all. Our Lord does not indulge in such inconsequential

Dr. Charles is fond of correcting the text of his authorities, and sometimes in a very arbitrary manner. It is usually some "ignorant scribe," who has falsified the record, who is denounced. Here, however, it seems to be the Evangelist himself who has been unfortunate enough to incur Dr. Charles's wrath. Whatever may be thought of St. Mark as an historian, he is, by common consent, our earliest authority for the main incidents of our Lord's life and ministry. He is a faithful transmitter of authentic tradition, who does not consciously invent what he hands down. It might have been worth Dr. Charles's while to consider carefully whether even here the tradition recorded by the Evangelist is not after all authentic. It is, at any rate, so regarded by Dr. Burkitt, who explains Christ's words at once simply and convincingly, He says, [1] [(1) The Gospel and its Transmission, p. 100 f.]

The condemnation of the woman is not found in Matthew and Luke, and it is pretty generally assumed to be a secondary addition, "based on Roman haw," says Dr. Schmiedel in Encyclopædia Biblica, col. 1851. I venture to think such a view mistaken, and that, so far from being a secondary addition, it is one of the really primitive features of the Gospel of Mark, a feature which was dropped out or altered when its historical meaning had been forgotten. It was no doubt monstrous to imagine that a Jewess should desert her husband to marry another man, but it was not quite unheard of. We know the woman and her history. Herodias had left her husband--the man whom Mark calls "Philip," but Josephus only knew as "Herod"--in order to live with Antipas. Antipas also was guilty: he had put away the daughter of the Arabian [37/38] King Aretas to marry Herodias his half-brother's wife, she herself being his half-sister.

We need scarcely pause to inquire whether Herodias merely deserted her first husband, or whether, like her great-aunt Salome, [1] [(1) Josephus, Ant. xv. 7, 10.] she availed herself of the methods of Roman procedure and divorced him. Our Lord's previous words show that He did not regard an "immoral" act as being any the less "immoral" for being carried out according to law: in either case I venture to think the saying as reported in Mark clearly implies a reference to Herodias, a reference which is singularly appropriate in the time and place.

We may, therefore, in spite of Dr. Charles, rely with confidence upon the Markan record. In the previous discussion it has been clearly demonstrated, we think, how untenable Dr. Charles's argument is that in all Christ's utterances about divorce the special case of adultery is, by implication, excluded. Consequently the prohibition of divorce given in Christ's words, as recorded by Mark and Luke, is absolute.


The excepting clause ("save for fornication" or "unchastity"), which appears in two passages in the first Gospel, calls for some further comment.

We have already seen that in Matthew xix. 9 the limiting clause is inconsistent with its context. Dr. Charles, in fact, does not dispute the secondary character of the limiting clause in both the Matthean passages. But he holds, on indefensible grounds, as we believe, that the gloss brings out the original meaning of the teaching correctly. That the limiting words do not bring out the original sense of Christ's teaching in Matthew v. 32 is clear when the passage is examined. For as it stands it apparently says that if a [38/39] man divorces his wife, except for adultery, he makes her an adulteress. But obviously, if a woman is divorced for adultery, she is an adulteress already; and the fact that her husband divorces her and sets her free to marry another man does not make a woman who is already an adulteress anything else. In its original form, however, the saying is perfectly clear and categorical: But I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife . . . maketh her commit adultery (poiei authn moiceuqhnai): and whosoever marrieth her when she is but away committeth adultery. Clearly the first clause, which has the current practice of divorce in view, contemplates the remarriage of the divorced woman to a second "husband." This union Christ brands as adulterous. And the second "husband" is branded as adulterer. Christ's words embrace even the case of divorce for adultery. For though the woman have committed adultery, she is still the wife of her first husband, and not free to marry someone else, while her husband still lives. If her husband divorce her, and so sets her free to marry some other man, such a union will be adulterous. These are the implications of the verse, if the excepting clause is removed. The insertion of the latter is no doubt due to the editor of the Gospel in its final shape, and was intended to exclude from Christ's words the special case of adultery. Divorce for proved adultery, and remarriage of the innocent husband, is thus allowed in the text of these passages, though not, as we hold, with the authority of Christ. The words were inserted by the editor, and doubtless reflect the current practice of the Palestinian Church when he wrote.

[40] III.

Christ appealed against the specific enactments of the Mosaic Law to the Divine Law as set forth in the history of Creation (Gen. ii. 18-24, cf. i. 28).

A Jewish scholar, [1] [(1) Dr. M. Mielziner, The Jewish Law of Marriage and Divorce in Ancient and Modern Times (Cincinnati, 1884).] who is an authority on the subject, expounds the principles embodied in these passages as follows: [2] [(2) Op. cit., p. 15 ff.]

1. Marriage is a divine institution for man's happiness and welfare.

2. Woman is a part of man's own being; hence not, as according to the degrading views of almost all nations of antiquity, his inferior and slave, but equal to him in dignity, and destined to be a help at his side.

3. Through mutual, sincere affection, which is even more intensive than that which naturally exists between children and their parents, husband and wife shall become one flesh--that is, they shall coalesce in one being, one person.

4. Marriage was ordained and blessed by God, not only for the purpose of securing the material and moral welfare of the individual, but also to preserve and continue the human race.

The consequences of these principles are:

(a) As a divine institution, marriage must be sacred and inviolable.

(b) Perfect union and harmony shall exist between husband and wife; in mutual love and affection they shall assist each other, contribute to each other's perfection and happiness, and share a common destiny as to the good or evil which shall happen to them.

(c) The principle that "man shall cleave to his wife, and they shall become one being," excludes polygamy as well as divorce, as contravening the will of God and the design of marriage.

Dr. Mielziner regards these principles as "ethical doctrines" embodying the Divine ideal and purpose of marriage, and he distinguishes them from "laws" [40/41] which "consider man as he is, and his relations as they are, and try to diminish and restrict general evils which, under existing circumstances, cannot at once be abolished and extirpated." But with regard to the Christian society these principles, as laid down by Christ, were intended to govern the practice of its members from the beginning. Christ, as Dr. Gore points out in a later chapter, was here definitely legislating. He was not, it is true, enunciating a code of marriage law like that of the later canonists. But He definitely laid down a certain principle (or principles) which He intended to be a controlling factor in the new society from the first. The most important of these principles are, the law of monogamy and the indissolubility of the marriage tie (where a true marriage has been contracted), except by death.

It is significant that these principles were accepted as binding at once by St. Paul and the organized Christian society which he represented. The law of monogamy has remained the unchallenged law, not only of the Christian Church, but of the States which have grown up under the influence of Christian civilization down to this very hour. Bigamy or polygamy in Western European countries and countries which share European culture and civilization (like the American States) is not only an offence against the moral code of the Christian Church, but a crime punishable by legally defined penalties. The principle that a valid marriage is essentially indissoluble, except by death, has also been embodied in the Canon Law of the Western Church, and as such has been inherited by the Church of England. In her formularies it is accepted and implied as axiomatic. Divorce in the modern sense, which treats the [41/42] marriage bond (vinculum) as broken (for adultery and other reasons), has never been accepted by the Canon Law of the Western Church or by the Church of England. Where this is not the rule, as in the case of the Eastern Church, and (unhappily) in the Episcopal Church of America (which recognizes divorce for adultery), these ought to be regarded as concessions to a lower standard than Christ sanctioned for His society. Such concession in one case (divorce for adultery, followed by remarriage of the innocent party) can, it is true, be justified by the precedent set by the Jewish Christian Church of Palestine, and this fact must be frankly recognized. But it ought not to be used to lower the standard of Christian marriage which has hitherto been accepted by the Western Canon Law and by the Church of England. It ought to be regarded as a concession to lower standards and treated as exceptional.

So far as the Church of England is concerned, no provision has been made in her formularies for the remarriage of an innocent party who has been divorced in the courts, while the other party of the marriage is alive. To use the marriage service of the Prayer-Book for such a "marriage" is to make it meaningless. Such unions should be regulated as provided by the State, outside the Church and her services. On the other hand, the innocent party to such a "marriage" so contracted (when the original marriage has been abrogated for adultery) ought not, in my judgment, in view of the implicit sanction given in the first Gospel (Matt. v. 32, xix. 9), to be visited with ecclesiastical censure or excommunication.

[43] IV.

It is instructive, in this connection, to compare the principles on which the Jewish legislation was based with the new principles which were enunciated by Christ, and which were accepted as normative in Christian theory and practice.

It must be stated at once that Jewish practice, as a whole, reached a high standard. Thus monogamy was the rule, almost without exception, long before polygamy was formally abrogated in the West by R. Gershom (c. A.D. 1000). The Rabbinical teachers were, so far as our information goes--and there is no good reason to assume anything to the contrary--without exception, monogamists. Still, polygamy was tolerated in the legal codes, and "the provisions of the Talmudic law frequently refer to cases where one man contracts marriage with more than one wife." [1] [(1) Mielziner, op. cit., p. 30.] The Mosaic Law, however, which is the foundation of the Rabbinical codes, cannot be said to regard polygamy as anything but an evil. It tolerates and regulates it--as it does, e.g., slavery and blood-revenge--but the spirit of the Law itself is against the institution.

The same remark applies to the Mosaic legislation about divorce. The Deuteronomic enactment (Deut. xxiv. 1-3), which has been referred to frequently in the previous discussion, does not institute divorce, but treats it as a custom already in force, and "lays down regulations tending to limit it and preclude its abuse." [2] [(2) Driver, Deuteronomy, ad loc.] The Rabbinical legislation went farther [43/44] still, and in various ways strove to make divorce as difficult as possible. But the efforts of the Rabbis in this direction were always beset with the formidable difficulty that the Law does apparently recognize the inherent right of a husband to divorce his wife, and the initiative must always be taken by him, even according to later Rabbinical law. [1]

[(1) "In general, when the Mishnah speaks of 'compelling' the [guilty] husband to execute a bill of divorce, the court could scourge, fine, imprison, and excommunicate him, and had practically unlimited power to force him to deliver the necessary document freeing his wife. . . . But in case of his determined contumely, there could be no redress, as the court could not, of its own motion, dissolve a marriage, though it could pronounce a marriage ab initio void. . . . The whole tenor of Jewish divorce depended on the theory that divorce was the act only and solely of the husband" (Abrahams, op. cit., p. 73).]

In the same way the mere fact that polygamy was securely entrenched in Jewish Law had momentous consequences. Thus:

In Jewish Law adultery was the intercourse of a married woman with any man other than her husband. Though his conduct was severely reprobated, and, at all events in later centuries, gave his wife a right to claim a divorce, a man was not regarded as guilty of adultery unless he had intercourse with a married woman other than his wife. For though monogamy had become the prevalent custom in Jewish life long before the Christian era, [2] [(2) Cf. Jewish Encyclopædia, viii. 657.] the man could legally marry several wives, and sometimes did so. Thus an unmarried and unbetrothed woman with whom a married man had intercourse might become his wife; indeed, such intercourse could be legally construed into a marriage. [3] [(3) Abrahams, op. cit., p 73.]

Christ by His appeal against the special enactments of the Mosaic legislation to a prior and higher law, embodied in the story of Creation, set free the great positive principles of monogamy and the indissoluble character of the marriage tie. By repudiating divorce [44/45] He cut away the restrictions upon the higher standard which have proved so hampering in the development of the Jewish Law. The law binding upon the Christian society is thus founded upon these positive principles, which are absolute and binding.

"Marriage," says a recent writer, [1] [(1) Canon T. A. Lacey.] "is a natural union as intimate and indestructible as that of parent and child. The purpose of nature in the relation of parent and child may be frustrated by separation as completely as in the case of husband and wife, but the parent does not cease to be parent, or the child cease to be child; their mutual obligation may be obscured or suspended, but cannot be definitely cancelled." "Marriage is ideally indissoluble," says another recent writer, [2] [(2) Dr. Macfadyen.] "the relation of husband and wife being like that of father and son, or brother or sister, where there may be casual alienation, or even separation, without altering the fact of the relationship."

As Canon Lacey has also observed:

If marriage were a mere contractual relation, an artificial partnership, it would be terminable, not only by failure to achieve its object, but even more equitably by mutual consent; because it is constituted in the order of nature, and not only at the will of parties, it is indissoluble except by an event equally in the order of nature; and this can be found only in death. By virtue of nothing short of this can the husband cease to be husband, or the wife cease to be wife. [3] [(3) Marriage in Church and State, p. 18.]

Such are the positive principles which should govern the marriage relationship and marriage as an institution, according to the teaching of Christ.

The contention of Dr. Charles that divorce for adultery should not merely be tolerated by Christian [45/46] people, but positively enjoined as a Christian duty, having the implicit sanction of Christ Himself, can only be characterized as a monstrous perversion. How baseless his arguments about the supposed prevalence of a particular Jewish law and custom at the time of our Lord's ministry really are we have already seen. If Dr. Charles's view were accepted, it would have the inevitable result of lowering the standard of the Christian doctrine and practice of marriage all round, with the added disastrous result of depressing still further the already lowered standards that prevail outside the Christian society. Facilis descensus Averni. As Dr. Charles's book has made us painfully aware, he has already gone far beyond the original contention set forth in the sermon, and is now prepared to open the gates to Divorce, if not "for every cause," yet very wide indeed!

ADDITIONAL NOTES [1] [(1) By Dr. Box.]



It has been assumed in the previous discussion that the limiting clause ("saving for the cause of fornication [or unchastity]") is intended to exclude the special case of adultery, and that in this special case the effect of the clause is to allow the dissolution of the marriage and the remarriage of the innocent husband. This is Dr. Gore's view, and has been shared by many other scholars. But, speaking for myself, I confess I am in some doubt. As the text stands the last clause prohibits the remarriage of the woman who is divorced. Possibly, of course, the limitation is intended to apply to this clause also, in which case the woman who had been divorced for adultery could be allowed to contract a new marriage--i.e., the old marriage would be dissolved.

In a case of this sort the tradition of the earliest exegesis [46/47] ought to count for a great deal, if not decisively. As far as I can discover, the earliest commentators understood the limiting clause to justify the separation of husband and wife in one special case--viz., the proved adultery of the wife; but in any case remarriage on either side was forbidden. It was, in fact, divorce in the ecclesiastical sense--i.e., separation, not a dissolution of the marriage. Canon Lacer thus states the facts. [1] [(1) Op. cit., p. 24.] "It (the limiting clause) is not improbably a gloss, inserted by the Evangelist, calling attention to a practice recognized in the Church when he wrote. . . . The excepted cause justifies only the separation of husband and wife; it is interjected parenthetically for this purpose, and does not affect the subsequent judgment that the marriage of the divorced is adulterous. . . . So it was understood without hesitation by all Christian writers commenting on the words, until the entanglement of the Church with the Empire in the fourth century. . . . Those who held the general opinion that our Lord expressly sanctioned the divorce of an adulterous wife, and those who held, as Hermas, [2] [(2) Shepherd, Mand. iv. 1. The passage is quoted by Dr. Charles, p. 104 f, who, however, omits to state (p. 70) that the divorce insisted upon by Hermas did not allow of remarriage--i.e., it meant separation only.] that it was even sinful to cohabit with her, nevertheless emphatically declared that the husband dismissing her would himself be guilty of adultery if he married another. The bond of marriage, that is to say, remains unbroken by divorce."



In certain cases the Jewish court compelled the husband to divorce his wife, though both parties desired to continue their marriage. Among such cases are the following: If a man remarried his divorced wife after her second marriage; and "when the husband was willing to continue his marriage, though the wife had been found guilty of wilful adultery." [3] [(3) Mielziner, op. cit., p. 124.]

With this Jewish law Dr. Charles apparently agrees, and claims to be able to deduce it from St. Paul's teaching. He says: [4] [(4) Op. cit., p. 70 f.]

"By intercourse with a harlot or other illicit intercourse with women the marriage bond is essentially dissolved. . . . No other conclusion can be drawn from the Apostle's premises. Hence we cannot but infer that, in the case of deliberate and [47/48] unrepentant adulterers or adulteresses, the Apostle would not only have allowed divorce, but would have insisted on it.

"Any Church, therefore, that teaches the indissolubility of marriage under such circumstances does so in direct opposition to the principles of Christian marriage laid down in the New Testament. . . . The principles laid down by St. Paul would require the dissolution of marriage where one of the partners in such a marriage is a deliberate and unrepentant adulterer or adulteress."

It would be difficult to imagine a greater perversion of New Testament teaching than these statements contain. See Dr. Gore's criticism in the following chapter (IV.).

[49] CHAPTER IV [1] [(1) By Dr. Gore.]


IT is agreed that St. Paul, who wrote his first epistle to the Corinthians in A.D. 55, is our earliest witness to our Lord's teaching about divorce. On various points connected with marriage he gives his own judgment in the seventh chapter of this epistle: "This I say by way of permission, not of commandment"; "to the rest say I, not the Lord "; "I have no commandment of the Lord, but I give my judgment as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful." [2] [(2) 1 Cor. vii. 6, 12, 25.] But on the subject of the marriage bond he writes: "Unto the married I give charge, yea, not I, but the Lord, that the wife depart not [__ __________] from her husband (but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband); and that the husband leave not [afienai] his wife." The sense of "the Lord's commandment" is quite plain. Husband and wife should live together as husband and wife (see Mark x. 7 and Matthew xix. 4: "For this cause shall a man leave his mother and father, and shall cleave to his wife "). But if separation has become necessary and the wife depart, this is not to be taken as divorce admitting of remarriage. She is to remain as a single woman or else be reconciled to her husband.

[50] St. Paul is never at pains to give verbally complete rules, like a later canonist. He does not explicitly make the same proviso with regard to a husband who is obliged to separate from his wife. But in prohibiting the husband to leave--or better, "put away"--his wife, he implies the same proviso. Where, just afterwards, he is explaining that the prohibition of divorce does not strictly apply in his judgment to marriages contracted before conversion (ver. 15), he uses the same words (afienai and cwrisesqai) with the implied permission of remarriage. It is exactly this--viz., divorce and remarriage--which he regards as excluded for both wife and husband in the case of marriages contracted under the sanction of Christ. And the commandment of the Lord, as recorded by Mark and Luke, to which, whether in oral or written form, St. Paul is plainly referring himself, are equally explicit about both husband and wife. Dr. Charles admits all this. He admits that the words of St. Paul as they stand--with the clause "if she depart let her remain unmarried"--forbid remarriage after divorce. [1] [(1) Pp. 51 and 54: "The only words in the New Testament which forbid remarriage after divorce."] But he adopts the simple expedient of leaving it out, without being able to cite any authority of MSS. or versions or patristic quotations in support of such procedure. There have been ecclesiastical apologists for the indissolubility of marriage who have suggested a similar expedient for getting rid of the exceptive clauses in St. Matthew. [2] [(2) Dr. Charles is perhaps among them. He twice speaks of these exceptive clauses, not as glosses introduced by the Evangelist himself (which is, I think, the fact), but as "scribal interpolations" (pp. 74, note 1, and 75, note 1).] In both cases the proposal is absolutely arbitrary. But this is Dr. Charles's way. With [50/51] equal impatience of the evidence he has asserted in his Commentary on the Apocalypse that Revelation xiv. 4, "These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins," is the interpolation of a "narrow" and "stupid" editor, simply because he disapproves of the exaltation of virginity; and, if I can trust my memory unverified, somewhere in a note he disposes in the same way of the third Beatitude (Matt. v. 5). It is this sort of intolerable arbitrariness which almost makes one despair of the "advanced critics." There is not the slightest force in Dr. Charles's plea that cwrisqhnai is used in a different sense in the clause which he omits and in the previous sentence. In each they have exactly the same meaning of "to be separated" or "depart." There is nothing to argue about. The clause stands. Nor is there anything obscure or difficult about St. Paul's teaching. It has been rendered "obscure" simply by the endeavour of those who will not accept it to efface its meaning. So it is with the famous verses following, in which St. Paul, on his own authority, not the Lord's (ver. 12), refuses, apparently, to apply the same principle of indissolubility to marriages contracted by two parties in paganism, of whom one afterwards becomes Christian. Such marriages had been entered into without the idea of contracting an indissoluble union. If they agree, St. Paul says, let them maintain the union after the conversion of one party. So it will obtain Christian consecration. But if the still heathen party depart, St. Paul plainly, I think, allows the "brother" or "sister" to contract another union. He or she is not "under bondage" in such cases. The marriage was not a marriage in the Christian sense. But in a marriage contracted [51/52] with Christian implications--"in the Lord"--the parties are "under bondage" in the sense of contracting a union which they cannot dissolve. To extend this "permission"--what is called the "Pauline privilege"--from pagan marriages to those contracted with Christian sanctions, as so many Protestants have done, in order to cover remarriage after desertion among Christians, is surely to ignore the very principle on which it is founded.

Dr. Charles is equally unfortunate and arbitrary in his treatment of the previous chapter (vi. 15-16) of this same epistle. St. Paul is denouncing fornication. He says that "he that is joined to a harlot is one body: for, The twain, saith he, shall become one flesh." And Dr. Charles, rightly holding that fornication is a general word and would cover the dealings of a married man with a harlot, draws the quite unwarranted conclusion that St. Paul implies that such a married man would by his act of sin dissolve his existing marriage--"he severs at one and the same time the bond that unites him to his wife and the bond that unites him to Christ" (p. 68). Again, "the principles laid down by the Apostle teach that the marriage tie is essentially dissolved by intercourse with a harlot" (p. 70). This, again, is pure arbitrariness. Dr. Charles seems to me only to discredit himself as a critic by such an affirmation. St. Paul is not specially thinking of a married man. He simply argues that the act of fornication is incompatible with membership in Christ. He does not say that it dissolves that membership, and the question of the married man's relation to his wife is not within his purview at all. Certainly Dr. Charles "gives himself away" in his dealings with St. Paul.

[53] On the only passage of St. Paul [1] [(1) "Or are ye ignorant, brethren (for I speak to men who know law), how that the law hath dominion over a man for so long time as he liveth? For the woman that hath an husband is bound by law to the husband while he liveth; but if the husband die she is discharged from the law of her husband. So then if, while the husband liveth, she be joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if the husband die, she is free from the law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be joined to another man."] which remains to be considered (Rom. vii. 1-3) I quite agree with Dr. Charles (p, 39 ff.) that, though St. Paul speaks of "law" generally, and not of "the law"--i.e., the Jewish Law--it is of that particular Law that he is thinking, and I agree with him also that the words have no bearing on the problem whether divorce followed by remarriage is permissible for Christians; for it was certainly permissible under the Jewish Law. On the other hand, it is important to notice that St. Paul's emphatic and exclusive language is quite accurate. It covers no latent exceptions, and cannot be quoted as a precedent for introducing exceptions into similarly emphatic and exclusive declarations elsewhere. St. Paul passes from "man" generally (_______, ver. 1) to the married woman in particular, and he states absolutely that nothing but death could dissolve the obligation of the woman to her husband. This was true without exception. Under the Jewish Law the woman had no power to divorce her husband. This is all St. Paul needs for his similitude. His language is quite compatible with the husband's power to divorce his wife under the Jewish Law, with which he is not concerned.

We conclude, therefore, that St. Paul understood Christ as having legislated--i.e., issued a commandment--for His Church, prohibiting remarriage after [53/54] divorce, or, in other words, as having made the indissolubility of marriage the law of His Church. Circumstances, including, no doubt, the unfaithfulness of husband or wife, may justify separation, but not remarriage. This seems to me to render it almost certain that when St. Mark and St. Luke, close disciples of St. Paul, insert into their Gospels words of Christ, whether previously existing in written form (Q) or only preserved in oral form, which appear to assert indissolubility without exception and with the utmost distinctness--viz., Luke xvi. 18 and Mark x. 2-12--and that, too, when they were writing in a Gentile world and for Gentiles, they were of the same mind as St. Paul: they believed that Christ has made indissoluble marriage the law of His Church. I think we are forced to this conclusion concerning our three earliest witnesses, [1] [(1) I think the third Gospel was written before the first. But it makes no difference to my argument if St. Matthew was written earlier. Anyway, St. Luke did not know it.] and the further conclusion is involved that St. Matthew's "exceptive clauses" are glosses or interpretations--explaining what, it was thought, the "Lord must have meant"--due to the unknown author [2] [(2) I follow the critics, as I feel bound to, in calling the author of our first Gospel as it stands unknown. I have no doubt that the bulk of it is derived either from St. Mark or the lost work of St. Matthew; and that it is thus "according to Matthew," but not, as it stands, by him.] of the first Gospel writing in Palestine under a strong Jewish influence.

As is well known, in the first Gospel we have two passages about divorce, both with similar exceptive clauses admitting divorce for fornication (= adultery)--i.e., Matthew v. 31-32 and xix. 3-12. Of these, the first draws upon the source (commonly called Q) of the common matter of St. Matthew and St. Luke. [54/55] It is given, without the exceptive clause, in Luke xvi. 18. The second passage, whether or no there were anything corresponding to it in Q, anyway is based upon the passage in St. Mark (chap. x.), whose Gospel "St. Matthew" certainly uses. I do not think Dr. Charles has rendered this common conclusion anyway improbable. I think Dr. McNeile, following almost all the recent critics, makes the priority of St. Mark indisputable. To "St. Matthew," then, must be credited not only the exceptive clause "except for fornication," but also the words which, in the interests of the same exception, define the original question and make it, instead of general (as it is in St. Mark, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?"), particular--"Is it lawful . . . for every cause?" He does with regard to this question precisely what he does with regard to another question, asked of our Lord on another occasion: "Tell us, when shall these things [i.e., the destruction of Jerusalem] be? and what shall be the sign when these things are all about to be accomplished?" (Mark xiii. 3). The question in Luke's version (xxi. 7) is identical. Now it is reproduced in Matthew, but modified to suit the emphasis laid in Matthew's version on the end of the world as following "immediately" on the destruction of Jerusalem. So the question runs (Matt. xxiv. 3) "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" It seems to me that to study Matthew's reproductions of Mark is to become convinced in almost all cases of the priority of Mark. In the case of Matthew xix. 3-10 as compared with Mark x. 2-12 I cannot doubt it. And I think Dr. McNeile's commentary on the passage in St. Matthew [1] [(1) Macmillan, 1915.] represents the case truly.

[56] I think one sign of this is that the passage (Matt. xix. 10-12) appended, in the first Gospel only, to that just discussed [1] [(1) See next paragraph.] is only really intelligible if it follows a declaration of the absolute indissolubility of marriage such as is found in St. Mark, but not in St. Matthew. The disciples are astonished--so astonished that they say: "If the case of the man is so with his wife, it is not good to marry." They could not, surely, express this astonishment at anything less than a declaration by our Lord of complete indissolubility. I suppose the saying in Luke xvi. 18 was an earlier saying of our Lord, the report of which had probably prompted the question of the Pharisees, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?"--i.e., at all or in any case. Now the worst fears of the disciples were confirmed--divorce is excluded altogether--and they ask their question in bewilderment--"In that case is it not better to avoid marriage?" And our Lord replies that it is not so in general, but only in special cases of physical incapacity or moral self-devotion. This seems to me the natural meaning of the passage, and it seems also to me that it could only follow some astonishing statements by our Lord such as seemed to make marriage unexpectedly difficult.

[1] [(1) "The disciples say unto him, If the case of the man is so with his wife, it is not expedient to marry. But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, but they to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are eunuchs, which were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs, which made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." I am not sure that _____ in verse 10 can bear the meaning of "case," or that the papyri quoted in support are relevant. But this does not really affect the argument.]

Thus, on the whole, I think the evidence shows that Dr. Charles has the worst of the case, both (1) as, [56/57] regards the suggested priority of St. Matthew and his independence of St. Mark, and (2) as regards the suggestion that Matthew xix. 10-12 represents a saying of our Lord which is here quite out of its original connection. I think, on the contrary, that Mark is prior, and the appended passage in Matthew belongs where it stands, and shows that the sayings previously reported (Matt. xix. 3-9) must originally have run in Mark's sense.

So the case seems to me to stand thus: St. Paul, St. Mark, and St. Luke represent our Lord as pronouncing for indissolubility. The first Gospel introduces the modification or exception twice over. But we are bound to recognize that it was a gloss, and the early Church, in making St. Matthew its premier Gospel, in fact interpreted him in the sense of the others.

There is one other argument against this position which is not, I think, urged by Dr. Charles, but is by many scholars, who cannot doubt that our Lord did pronounce for indissolubility, but desire practically to stand for a laxer rule. They say that our Lord was putting forward an ideal, but not enacting a law. They compare His saying about marriage to His saying about "turning the left cheek," and the other sayings that we are bound to interpret as extreme examples, which cannot be converted into literal laws. But I do not think this is a tenable contention. St. Paul certainly understood our Lord to have given a specific command binding on the Church and on Himself. So did the early Church--witness the detailed account of the Christian law in the Shepherd of Hermas. [l] [(1) See The Question of Divorce, pp. 33-34.] The Church all down its history, even when perplexed about [57/58] the passage in St. Matthew, has never doubted that our Lord did in this matter, as in hardly any other, stand forth as a lawgiver, making a specific enactment for His society. In other words, the common sense of the Christian Church has always drawn a distinction between our Lord's paradoxical and extreme examples of Christian conduct under difficulties, which it has never regarded as laws, and His sayings about marriage. Indeed, it seems to me impossible to read either the passage in Mark or the parallel passage in Matthew without recognizing in Christ a legislator for His Church in this matter.

[59] CHAPTER V [1] [(1) By Dr. Gore.]


AS I have said, Dr. Charles's argument proceeds. through nearly his whole book as if he were supporting with new arguments a very old position--viz., that our Lord allowed the dissolution of marriage for one single cause, and then the remarriage of the innocent party, and the object of this book has been to show that the new arguments are not at all convincing, and the case stands as it stood before Dr. Charles's sermon.

But in chapter vi. we have a most surprising disclosure, which opens the doors to facilitate divorce widely indeed: "God does not join together all that are joined by the marriage service. The Church cannot by its blessing transform unions which are entered into lightly or irresponsibly, and make them marriages such as God would have them--unions which are due to some transitory attraction, or to sheer vanity, or to greed of gain or power, or to the mood of the moment." [1] [(1) Pp. 79, 80.] Such marriages, of course, are not "as God would have them." The question is whether they are real marriages, such as necessarily carry the obligation of real marriage. Dr. Charles apparently holds that they are not. He would renew the Mosaic relaxation, in spite of our Lord's solemn repudiation of it, and far beyond the single point of adultery. "There [59/60] are many husbands and wives," he says, "who are separated, not by any decree of the State, but by grave offences, such as desertion, or by irremediable evils, such as habitual intoxication or hopeless insanity." [1] [(1) P. 82.] To such cases he suggests that it is not unreasonable that the Church should extend the (so-called) Pauline privilege, and "release the believer [2] [(2) Dr. Charles suggests that the deserter is probably in many cases an unbeliever. But by "unbeliever" in i Corinthians vii. 14-15, St. Paul means a pagan, who had presumably contracted with his (now Christian) wife a marriage which it was clearly understood was not indissoluble. He was not describing the man's inner mind, but his outward status.] from the yoke of bondage." I have said already [3] [(3) See above, p. 52.] that I think the use of St. Paul's name in such a connection is wholly unwarranted. But I feel bound to point out all that is involved in this contention.

Society is based upon the principle that contracts are valid which a man makes ex opere operato (as we may say)--that is, if only he knew what he was doing, quite apart from the question whether he was in intention frivolous or fraudulent. He is bound by his act. A similar principle underlies the Christian doctrine of sacraments. The act is valid and carries its consequences, if the subject of it is only conscious and responsible. A marriage may be held to be valid, if it is celebrated before any responsible witness--as, for instance, a registrar. It need not require the presence of a priest for its validity, as in the later Roman Catholic law. But it must be a voluntary public act in some sense. Granted this, it is valid without regard to the feelings of the contracting parties. If you abandon this ground, which, as I have said, is common to all settled societies and not peculiar [60/61] to to the Church; if you allow it to be an effective plea that the contracting party was frivolous or impulsive, and is therefore exempt from the consequences of his action, you do indeed open the door most widely to divorce--to divorce, for instance, for "desertion" which is, in effect, by consent. This is apparently Dr. Charles's desire. [1] [(1) P. 82.] But if so, we think it would have been better if he had disclosed his real mind earlier; for, indeed, it seems to render the argument of the main part of his book--that is, for the permissibility of full divorce for one cause only, viz., adultery-somewhat unreal.

Nevertheless, we may be glad that Dr. Charles has realized that the admission of this one only cause of divorce and of remarriage only for the innocent party is not an admission which will satisfy the clamour for "divorce reform." Our law has already gone beyond it, and the clamour for further relaxation is still loud and persistent. A State law can no doubt never be kept permanently at a higher level than public opinion will sanction. But whatever the State law, the Church has believed itself to have a law of its own, which has the authority of its Master, and which it cannot depart from. The primary question for Christians is, What is the marriage law of the Church obligatory upon its members? And it is distressing to find that at the last resort Dr. Charles contemplates the Church sanctioning divorce not only for adultery, but for desertion--that is (as I have said), practically whenever the parties agree to separate permanently--as well as for other causes.


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