What is the right biblical and pastoral answer for those with real questions concerning divorce and remarriage? David Instone-Brewer in Divorce and Remarriage in the Church (IVP, 2003/6) suggests that much of our current advice and interpretation of Scripture on these matters are not clear nor sensible (hence the need for his book 🙂 )
The trouble with most theologies of divorce is that they aren’t sensible. They may give a reasonable account of most of the texts, in a forced way, but their conclusions just aren’t practical… (p. 13)
Instone-Brewer says most interpretations today fall into 2 camps: (a) there are 2 valid reasons for divorce; remarriage is not allowed unless one person dies, and (b) no grounds for divorce or separation.
The first interpretation isn’t logical says the author. “Why would Jesus and Paul identify these two grounds for divorce but not allow divorce for physical abuse or other harmful situations?” (p. 14) The second option is more logical but no more practical.
Adding to the confusion are those who just decide the bible isn’t practical and so try to extend the texts on divorce to cover adultery, abuse, abandonment, etc. While these are more sensible, their textual support is “dubious.”
Instone-Brewer came to see the texts in new light after studying the text AND first century Judaism and so the remainder of the book will be his conclusions in 4 sections
1. God is a divorcee (OT material). ch 2-4
2. Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching on divorce and remarriage (ch 5-7)
3. How this teaching should work and a look at marriage vows (ch 8-10)
4. Church policy on divorce and what it should do now (ch 11-15)
But the author can’t bear to stop the chapter now so he launches into what he didn’t find in the Bible: the words, “Those whom God has joined, no man can separate.” What Jesus DID say is, “let no one separate.” Why the distinction here? Is Jesus saying it is not possible to separate? If God has joined, then no one can unjoin? Instone-Brewer says no. What it means is that no one SHOULD separate.
Second, who are these words to? The one who causes it? The one who starts the proceedings? You get the inkling that Instone-Brewer believes it is the one who causes vows to be broken. Why? Well, God divorces us but he is the victim.
…his warning is not to the person who finally tidies up the legal mess after the marriage has broken down but to those who would violate their marriage vows and, in so doing, cause the marriage to break up. (p. 18)
Of course people do break their vows all the time and so if they are repentant, I-B says we should forgive them. But if vows are repeatedly broken, then the marriage is, “in shreds.” (p. 19).
Again, I-B can’t wait to reveal his hand later and so concludes (a) the bible only allows victims to initiate divorce and Jesus’ problem with his hearers was that they had abandoned this idea for groundless divorce, and (b) the OT also allows divorce for abuse and neglect.
Well, what do you think? Should biblical intepretations be sensible (to us) and practical? I confess that I have never used sensible when considering whether my interpretation is good–at least knowingly. Seems much doesn’t make sense to me. But, it is an interesting way of thinking about these passages. If they are meant for us to use, they they should be practical, no?
I think he’s shortchanged us by limiting the typical camps on this topic. There are many who believe that there are a limited number of legitimate reasons and in those reasons, remarriage is possible.
For those really wanting to get into the topic, I would recommend two other writers: Jay Adams book on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Also, check out John Piper’s lengthy document. He takes a very conservative (no remarriage) position–even more conservative than the official position of his elders.
Let’s see where I-B goes as he engages the OT next.