Divorce & Remarriage 14: Summary and application

In chapter 14 of David Instone-Brewer’s Divorce and Remarriage in the Church(IVP), we find a summary of the book and some practical applications. In this next to last chapter of the book, he summarizes each chapter. Here are some key points.

Chapter 1 points out that some things we thought were in the bible (re: divorce) aren’t actually there. Chapter 2 looks at how in the OT God corrects an ANE tradition of allowing men to abandon and then return to their wives at will by requiring them to give a divorce certificate to their wives if they refused to provide for her or to be faithful. This certificate allowed her to remarry. Chapter 3 runs down the rabbit trail of God as divorcee. Chapter 4 shows Jesus’ teaching to be in continuity with the OT. Chapter 5 looks at Jesus’ criticism of groundless divorce. Chapter 6 explores Paul’s rejection of groundless divorce and his recognizing that if one is victimized by a groundless divorce that they shouldn’t be enslaved to it and are free to remarry. Chapter 7 and 8 look at whether there is biblical teaching that divorce is always wrong (even for abuse) and that even if they get divorce, whether or not they are really are in God’s eyes. I-B believes there isn’t credibility for these teachings from Scripture and that the OT does allow for divorce in cases of neglect/abuse. Chapter 9 looks at whether remarriage is possible. He believes the NT doesn’t really address this matter in grounded (opposed to groundless) divorces since it was commonly accepted in the first century. He believes both Jesus and Paul assume this in their teachings and didn’t clearly exclude remarriage.

He cites early Reformers who also saw the Scriptures this way (Erasmus, Martin Luther, Zwingli, Cranmer) and allowed for divorce on grounds of abuse, abandonment, neglect as well as adultery.

He then cites modern writers who also have similar positions (although he admits they may hold these positions but fail to use proper biblical grounds).

Finally, he suggests these policies for consideration:

The biblical grounds for divorce are adultery, neglect and abuse, any of which is equivalent to broken marriage vows.

No one should initiate a divorce unless their partner is guilty of repeatedly or unrepentantly breaking their marriage vows.

No one should separate from their marriage partner without intending to divorce them.

If someone has divorced or separated without biblical grounds, they should attempt a reconciliation with their former partner.

Remarriage is allowed in church for any divorcee after a service of repentance, unless they have divorced a wronged partner who wants to be reconciled.

The final chapter (15) are several letters written to him asking his opinion on their situation. He replies to each with what he think can be said and what is not clear from Scripture.


So we have come to the end of Divorce & Remarriage. It seems I-B has helped us understand some of the cultural contexts in which the OT and NT texts are written. He helps us understand where some of the text may be repeating current “legal” language. A chunk of his viewpoint is based on silence in the text and that the bible may not stipulate every kind of divorce. So, how do you feel about this? Does his arguments have merit? Where? Does he help clarify places where the church has misread the text? For me, I think his work helps me better defend 2 beliefs: a unrepentant breach of the vows may allow the victim to seek a divorce and then remarry; and separation “just to see what happens” is not only unwise but unbiblical.

Will some abuse this work and proclaim their right to no longer suffer? Sure. But that is nothing new. Will a few more who are suffering silently be willing to talk about their victimization? Hopefully. And hopefully church leaders will take their concerns seriously.

I do wish he addressed matters of sexual abuse. Sexually abused individuals are easily triggered by sexual activity. I would be very much against the spouse of a victim of sexual abuse using “neglect of conjugal love” as a reason for divorce. There are other forms of love besides intercourse.


Filed under Abuse, Biblical Reflection, book reviews, christian counseling, Christianity, conflicts, divorce, Doctrine/Theology, marriage

3 responses to “Divorce & Remarriage 14: Summary and application

  1. Les McFall has an interested way to deal with the exception clause in Matthew 19:9. He has written a 43 page paper that reviews the changes in the Greek made by Erasmus that effect the way Matthew 19:9 has been translated. I reviewed McFall’s paper at Except For Fornication Clause of Matthew 19:9. I would love to hear some feedback on this position.

  2. Would you please give me any N. T. scriptures which allows a womedn to remarry after she has been abused, emotionally and physically?

  3. More Christlike, I’ve not read that document nor any other on Erasmus impact on the Greek NT.

    R.A., this post was the last of 14 in a review of Instone-Brewer’s book. If you haven’t already, you might start by reviewing the previous posts on this book. They would show you that the OT and the NT are both pointing to the same thing so why limit yourself just to the NT but look for the trajectory of Scripture.

    Before answering the remarriag question I think you want to know whether an abused woman has the right to divorce, right? If you take Instone Brewer’s argument that the OT supports 3 reasons for divorce and that Jesus’ comments in Matthew 19 are only discussing one of those reasons (again, read the previous posts), then she would have the right to remarry. Then, if you buy that argument, you have to answer whether or not any divorced person has the right to remarry. Again, that is discussed in the book.

    Finally, even if you reject his reading of Matthew 19. An abused woman would have the right to divorce if (a) she brought the problem to the church, (b) the church was willing to take it seriously, (c) they disciplined the husband, (d) he refused to repent and stop the behavior, (e) they excommunicated him, (f) and then she had permission to “let him go”. This is not some legalistic term but to recognize that he had abandoned her by his abuse and so the church blesses her right to divorce. Unfortunately, the church has rarely been willing to do these things and so many a woman has had to handle the problem by herself.

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